Word Count 51,858
Disclaimer: They are not mine (except Truman and my invented characters) and I do not make moolah from these writings.
Many thanks to my One and ONLY beta, Lacy. You’re awesome, Mamacita!
The Lancer family was gathered together in the living room, enjoying the warmth of an early winter fire. Murdoch Lancer was reading the latest paper from Stockton, and Teresa was working on her needlepoint. Truman was playing with his soldiers and blocks on the floor as his big brothers battled through an intense game of Chess. He could only use his right hand because his left arm was still in a sling. His shoulder had been dislocated during an altercation with the Bailey boys the day before Thanksgiving. Truman’s right eye was no longer swollen, but still held a tint of yellowish-green around the outside. His rib had completely healed.
The family had spent the previous evening at Truman’s school for the Winter Family Night. They had enjoyed themselves by talking to other families, having refreshments, seeing the children’s schoolwork displayed and conferring with Miss May about Truman’s academic and social progress. Murdoch had been very pleased with Truman’s quality of schoolwork, especially the boy’s Thanksgiving essay and illustration.
Murdoch lowered his paper when he heard blocks tumbling and an exasperated sigh escape his youngest boy’s lips.
“What’s wrong, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny, Scott, and Teresa had also looked up when they heard their brother’s sigh.
“I can’t wait to get this sling off and go back to having both my arms to use. It’s hard having battles when you can only move one soldier at a time,” the boy replied with some frustration.
Murdoch chuckled lightly.
“I imagine it is difficult, Son. Your sling will probably be off by Christmas. Just be a little more patient.”
“I’ll try, Papa.”
“Good boy. Speaking of Christmas, what do you want for Christmas, Truman?”
“Oh, I don’t need anything,” the boy responded.
The jaws of the four adults dropped. They, including Johnny, had never heard of a boy Truman’s age saying that they didn’t need anything. Little boys always thought they “needed” candy, toys, a new fishing rod, or something. Johnny had grown up with barely anything, but he had slowly grown accustomed to answering that same question more honestly. He usually said he needed some socks or a new shirt, but that was it. Johnny’s family, exasperated at his lack of expressed list of wants, usually just bought what they thought he needed and would like. It seemed they would have to start doing that for Truman as well.
“Come here, Truman,” Murdoch instructed.
“Yes, Papa,” Truman answered as he struggled to stand. His injured arm impeded his ability to get up gracefully, so Scott lifted him up.
“You’re welcome, True,” Scott replied with a pat on the boy’s back.
Truman walked over to Murdoch, who lifted the boy into his lap.
“Now, young man, I did not ask you what you needed, I asked what you wanted.”
“I don’t know, Papa.”
“What about more marbles or blocks?” Murdoch suggested.
“Wouldn’t the orphans want those, too?” Truman asked.
Again, the adults were shocked. They really shouldn’t have been, for they knew the depth of Truman’s generosity.
“You already gave the orphans money for new clothes and a new roof,” Scott pointed out.
“Yes, but what fun do you get from playing with clothes? And ya can’t play with a roof!” Truman pointed out. “I don’t need anything. Give toys to the orphans. I have all I need right here. My Papa, my brothers and sister, my dog, my horse, my friends on the ranch, a good home, school, clothes, shoes, boots, books, a warm coat, my own room, a big bed to myself, and a whole toy box full of toys. What more do I need?”
Now, the others were truly dumbfounded and did not know how to answer the boy’s question. Murdoch suddenly came up with an idea.
“Truman, would you like to have a Christmas party for the orphans?” he suggested.
“Really? With a feast and singing and presents for them?” Truman asked, getting excited.
“Sure! And a tree, too!” Murdoch replied.
“What’s the tree for?” the boy asked, suddenly confused.
Scott and Johnny exchanged a knowing look. When the newly reunited Lancer family had their first Christmas, Scott, Teresa, and Murdoch had to explain the significance of the tree to Johnny.
Scott thought about how he could explain the tradition of the tree so his little brother would understand.
“The Christmas Tree tradition was started many hundreds of years ago. At first, it was used to teach people about The Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden,” Scott explained.
“Why do we decorate the tree?” the curious child asked.
“The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night,” Scott replied.
Johnny, Teresa, and Murdoch were enjoying this little history lesson. They hoped Truman would become more enthusiastic and confident once he understood the custom better. Since the child had spent the first 6 years of his life in a circus trailer and there was barely room for his family, much less a Christmas tree the boy had never experienced the thrill of finding, cutting, and decorating a tree.
“Are we going to put candles on our tree? Won’t the tree die as soon as we cut it down?” Truman asked.
“We do put candles on our tree. We also put our tree in a bucket of water so it will stay green for a couple of weeks and then we will remove the decorations and use it for other purposes. We put many other things, including candy canes, on our tree. People used to buy food items in markets and took them home to put on the tree. Most of the food items used to decorate the trees were symbols of plenty. Red and white flowers also decorated trees. Red was for knowledge and white was for innocence. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with that person’s gifts stacked on the table under the tree. Now, we just have one tree and put everyone’s presents under the tree. We’ll find a tree for the living room here to put our presents under, and one for the Mission dining hall and the orphans’ presents will go under that tree,” Scott finished.
“Can I help pick out the presents?” the child asked.
“Sure. Teresa, can you and Maria help us plan this shindig?” Murdoch asked.
“Of course! I am very proud of you, Truman, for being so generous to those less fortunate,” Teresa praised the boy.
“Thanks,” the boy whispered, with his cheeks blushing and his head bowed.
“We want to help, too, Murdoch,” Scott said.
“Yeah, we can help find the perfect tree for the dining hall at the Mission,” Johnny volunteered.
Murdoch caught a glimpse of the clock and noticed it was almost the boy’s bedtime.
“Son, it’s almost time for you to go to bed. We’ll plan the party some more tomorrow. Right now, you need to clean up and put your toys away.”
“Okay, Papa,” Truman answered as he yawned and rubbed his sleepy eyes.
He was gently lowered to the floor by Murdoch, and his brothers joined him on the carpet to help put his blocks and soldiers away.
“Thanks, Johnny and Scott, for helpin’ me.”
“You’re welcome, lil cowboy,” Johnny replied as he helped his little brother stand up.
Scott ruffled his brother’s hair and hugged him gently.
“Good night, True. You’re a good boy,” Scott praised.
Truman hugged his big brother and smiled. Johnny offered Murdoch a hand and pulled his father out of the armchair. Murdoch’s momentum made him bump into Johnny and the two of them laughed, then hugged quickly.
“Say your good nights, Truman, and I’ll take you up,” Murdoch instructed.
Truman yawned as he nodded.
“Good night, Teresa. Love you.”
“Good night, Truman. I love you, too. Sweet dreams, angel.”
“Good night, Johnny. Love you.”
“Buenos noches, mio nino hermano. Te amo,” Johnny replied with a hug.
Truman grinned at Johnny, then went to Scott.
“Buenos noches, mio hermano. Te amo.”
Scott and Johnny smiled at their little brother’s precociousness.
“Good night, big boy I love you, too.”
Murdoch took Truman by the hand and they went upstairs to the child’s room. Murdoch lifted Truman onto the bed and took the boy’s sling off, then helped him undress, and, finally, slip into a nightshirt. Truman said his prayers and was tucked into bed lovingly. He was asleep in minutes.
When Murdoch returned to the living room, Scott and Johnny were still battling it out over the chess board. Teresa had abandoned her sewing and was making a list on a pad of paper.
“What are you doing, Teresa?” Murdoch asked.
“Making a list of things we need to do for the party. First, we need to talk to Father Ortiz and ask him what he thinks of the party idea,” Teresa answered.
“Well, since Truman does not have school tomorrow, and it’s partially his idea, I think I’ll take him to the orphanage to talk with Father Ortiz,” Murdoch suggested.
“That’s a great idea. I’d like to come. As soon as we know it’s its okay, we can recruit him to help us plan the party,” Teresa said.
“You’re welcome to come, darling. In fact, I have been thinking of an idea I’d like to share with you young adults, but I need your cooperation for it to succeed.”
“What do you have in mind, Murdoch?” Scott asked.
“I’d like to take Teresa to Sacramento to help me do some Christmas shopping and leave Truman in your care, boys. What do you think?”
“Why does Teresa get to go?” Scott asked.
“Because she has been here three months and she deserves a little vacation. Besides, I need help picking out some things for other members of this family and she knows best.”
Teresa was grinning through this whole exchange and smirked at Scott.
“It’s fine with me. I’d rather stay home than be stuck in a freezing stagecoach to Sacramento,” Johnny said.
“You’re right, Murdoch. Teresa DOES deserve a break.” Scott said.
“Yeah, I think we can wrangle a seven year old cowboy. How long you plannin’ to be gone?” Johnny asked.
“About four days. If you’d like, I could do some shopping on your behalf,” Murdoch replied.
Scott and Johnny looked at each other and grinned.
“That won’t be necessary, Sir. Johnny and I finished our Christmas shopping in Stockton in October,” Scott said.
“You did?” Teresa asked, surprised.
“Yep,” answered Johnny. “Checkmate, Boston.”
Scott looked at his brother in shock.
“How did you…?”
“Gotta pay attention, brother!”
“I’ll get you back for that, little brother!”
Johnny nearly fell off the ottoman, he was laughing so hard.
“Johnny!” Murdoch hissed. “Be quiet before you wake Truman.”
“S-s-sorry.” Johnny replied through chuckles. He was trying to calm down, but the look on Scott’s face sent him into another fit of laughter.
“If you wake Truman, you will be putting him back to bed, young man,” Murdoch warned his middle son with a low growl.
“Ok, Pa.” Johnny replied with a grin and a little giggle.
Murdoch shook his head and grinned at his son’s antics.
“Want to play another game and try to get your pride back, Boston?”
“No, thanks, Johnny. I’m tired. I just want to sit here and enjoy the fire. Truman really surprises me sometimes. I mean, I know he’s a loving and intelligent boy, but his selfless, caring ways are so mature for a seven year old. I forget he’s that young,” Scott commented.
“Yes, he’s rather unspoiled. I want to give him what I can without overwhelming him with material things. I don’t want him to become spoiled, but I want him to feel comfortable telling us what he wants. Do you know what I mean?” Murdoch asked.
“I do, Pa. You want to spoil him without turning him into a brat. I think the best thing you can do is spend time with him. Taking him to the orphanage tomorrow and including him in the plans is a great idea.,” Johnny said.
“Johnny’s right, Murdoch. Spending time with him and listening to his ideas shows you really care. That’s a way of spoiling him without involving material items and it will improve his interaction skills,” Scott agreed.
“He does like to be involved in family planning, doesn’t he?” Murdoch said with a chuckle.
“Yep. I remember he about flung a fit when we started planning his birthday dinner. Remember what he said, Scott?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. He said if he didn’t get to help then he wouldn’t be there. That kid is so tenacious.”
“Yes, he is,” Murdoch agreed with a chuckle.
“Well it was his first real birthday celebration without his parents. I’m sure he was overwhelmed with a lot of different emotions and by helping us plan the day, he felt some modicum of control,” Teresa stated.
“Modicum? You’ve been hanging around Scott too long, Teresa. You better go to Sacramento to get back to normal,” Johnny said, snickering.
Johnny received both a swat on his arm and a bop on the head with a couch pillow for that remark. Murdoch just laughed at his “children’s” antics.
The other young “adults” were laughing harder and louder than Murdoch.
“Ahem, children. Don’t forget we have a little person already tucked in bed and, hopefully, still asleep!” Murdoch warned.
“You were laughin’, too, Pa,” Johnny pointed out.
“I was laughing quietly, Johnny.”
“Yeah, Johnny,” Scott said.
“Scott,” Murdoch said with a warning in his voice.
“Yes, Sir. Come on, Johnny. We need to set up the Chess pieces for tomorrow night’s game.”
“Okay. Hey, I wonder if Truman knows how to play Chess?” Johnny asked.
“We could ask him tomorrow. Maybe, if he is interested in learning, he could sit with us and watch and we could talk him through the game,” Scott suggested.
“Good idea, Boston. If he likes it and gets to be pretty good, maybe we could get a small set for him for Christmas,” Johnny agreed.
“Yeah. Let’s ask him to join us tomorrow,” Scott suggested.
“Okay. I think I’ll turn in. I’m tired,” Johnny said.
“I’m coming, too,” Scott said.
“Good night, boys,” Murdoch said fondly.
“Good night, Sir,” Scott replied.
“Buenos noches, Papa,” Johnny answered with a cheeky grin.
Scott shook his head and dragged Johnny to the steps.
“Aren’t you going to tell ME goodnight, boys?” Teresa asked petulantly.
“G’night, T’resa! Te amo,” Johnny said as Scott dragged him upstairs.
“Good night, Teresa. Sweet dreams!”
“Good night, boys.”
“I better go up, too. We have a big day ahead,” Teresa said.
“Yes, we do. I’m coming. I’ll get the lights. You go on, darling. Good night.”
“Good night, Murdoch.”
Scott and Johnny had sneaked into their brother’s room to check on him. They smiled at the boy, who was sleeping on his stomach with the bear he had received for his birthday snuggled against his side. It was a bear made from a pair of socks, much like the monkey dolls made from socks. Truman loved that bear. It had helped him recover from the injuries he had received the day before Thanksgiving. He didn’t carry it everywhere with him, for fear of being teased, but he slept with it every night. The bear had a place of honor on Truman’s pillow during the day.
Truman’s covers had been kicked down to his knees and his nightshirt was bunched up above his drawers, exposing his back. Johnny and Scott worked together to gently lift their brother’s waist, pull the shirt tails down, and pull the covers up to the child’s shoulders, being careful not to jostle his healing shoulder.
Both of the big brothers gently placed a kiss on their little brother’s head and retreated into Johnny’s room quietly.
“He loves that bear you gave him for his birthday, Johnny,” Scott whispered.
“Yeah, he sure does. You know, I don’t think he’s had a nightmare since he got that bear,” Johnny pointed out.
“I think you’re right. Well, I’ll see you in the morning, Johnny. Good night,” Scott said as he ruffled Johnny’s hair.
Scott received a slight smack in the stomach for his trouble. “Good night, Boston.”
The next morning dawned crisp and cold. The Lancer family had a wonderful breakfast together. Murdoch outlined the day’s activities and objectives.
“Truman, Teresa, and I are going to town to talk to Father Ortiz about the party. I’ll purchase the stage and train tickets to Sacramento while we’re there. Johnny and Scott, I need you to check and restock the north and east line shacks, then move the herd to the south pasture. Take as many men as you feel you need for the herd moving. If there are any supplies you need for the shacks we do not have on hand, make a list and get them in town tomorrow. Keep your receipts and take Truman with you. Teresa and I are packing this evening. Any questions?”
“No, Sir,” replied Scott.
“Will we see you at lunch?” Johnny asked.
“Probably not, son. However, we will be back in time for supper.”
“Okay. See you guys later, then,” Johnny said. “Be good, True, and keep an eye on Papa and Teresa.”
“I will, Johnny. You guys be careful out there with those cows. They aren’t too bright, ya know,” the youngest Lancer warned his big brothers.
The family chuckled and Truman earned a pat on his back for his remark.
“We’ll be careful, Truman. Have a good time with Papa,” Scott said.
“Okay. Adios mi hermanos.”
“Adios, nino hermano,” Johnny replied.
Scott waved and the older Lancer sons were out and on their way to their assigned tasks.
“Well, you two, we better get going. I had Jelly hitch the surrey. Teresa, toss a blanket or two on the back seat in case it gets chilly. Come on, Truman, we’ll get our coats on and meet your sister outside.”
“Okay, Papa,” the child responded agreeably as he followed Murdoch to the foyer where they donned their coats and hats. Murdoch helped Truman get his coat on over his sling. The patriarch opened the massive front door and gently ushered his youngest outside.
“I have to talk to the men for a few minutes. Here’s an apple. Why don’t you give Mickey a special treat while we wait for Teresa?” Murdoch suggested to Truman as he handed an apple to the boy.
“Thank you, Papa. Mickey thanks you, too.”
Murdoch smiled and gently squeezed the boy’s right shoulder.
Truman walked over to the corral and called Mickey to him while Murdoch gave last minute instructions to the hands who were working on the outbuildings. Mickey sauntered over to the boy and nuzzled his head. Truman offered the apple, which earned him a pleased snuffling and whinny from his equine friend. Mickey took the apple gently from the boy with his teeth and crunched the apple in half. Truman rubbed his horse’s neck and snuggled him lovingly.
Murdoch finished talking to Walt and Frank. As the hands went to carry out their boss’ expectations, Murdoch looked over at the corral and was pleased to see his son interacting happily with his horse.
“Murdoch! I’m ready!” Teresa called.
Murdoch waved his acknowledgement and walked toward his young son. “Truman, it’s time to go. Teresa is coming. Hello, Mickey. How are you? I know you miss Truman and I’m sure he misses you, but he’ll be riding you again as soon as Doc says it’s ok,” Murdoch talked to the horse kindly.
Truman grinned at Murdoch’s interaction with his cowpony.
“Did he enjoy the apple, son?”
“Yes, Papa. He crunched it right in half!”
Murdoch smiled and patted the horse once more before he took his son’s hand. “Tell Mickey good-bye for now. We need to go.”
“Okay. See ya later, Mickey. Be sweet.”
Murdoch led his boy to the surrey and lifted him effortlessly onto the buggy. Teresa was waiting on the other side, holding her purse and two blankets. Murdoch walked around and gave his ward a hand onto the surrey. Teresa tossed the blankets to the back seat and settled next to her little brother. Murdoch climbed up and sat on his son’s left, grabbed the reins and started their journey to Morro Coyo.
About halfway there, Truman began to shiver a little bit.
“Truman? Are you okay?” Teresa asked solicitously.
Teresa reached behind her and grabbed a blanket. Murdoch stopped the buggy and helped Teresa wrap a blanket around the shivering boy.
“Is that better, son?”
“Good. I think we better get a warmer winter coat for you while we are in town. What you have on right now is a spring coat. We’ve been lucky to have a mild winter so far, but I think it’s going to get colder later in the season,” Murdoch said.
“Isn’t this the barn coat Jelly bought for him last spring, when he first came to us?” Teresa asked.
“Yes, it is. We’ll stop at Baldemero’s before we head to the orphanage and find a suitable coat. How does that sound, young man?”
“Just fine, Papa.”
“Good. Maybe a haircut would be a good idea, too,” Murdoch suggested.
“I think so, too. We don’t want you to have your hair in your eyes while you’re singing in church,” Teresa said.
“Not too short. I like my hair to be like Johnny’s and I want my ears covered,” Truman said.
“Why do you want to keep your ears covered, Truman?” Teresa asked.
“So they don’t get cold in winter and sunburned in the summer,” he boy replied.
“Oh, that makes sense.”
“I know it does,” Truman said confidently.
Murdoch chuckled at his son’s precociousness.
Pretty soon, they were pulling into Morro Coyo and Murdoch drove the surrey to the livery stable where Ricardo worked. Once he and his family had disembarked, Murdoch paid Ricardo to care for his surrey and the team. Then, the three of them headed to Baldemaro’s and were greeted by the owner enthusiastically.
“Senor Lancer, Senorita Teresa, and Senor Truman, it is so good to see you! How may I help you today?” the cheerful man asked.
“Senor Baldemaro, Truman needs a warm winter coat. What do you have in his size?” Murdoch asked.
“Oh! Come this way, Truman. Let’s see what we can find to your liking,” the man said as he led the child to the back off his store.
Murdoch and Teresa followed. Baldemaro stepped to a rack of children’s coats. He picked up a blue wool coat with a blue plaid flannel lining and held it up for the boy’s perusal. Murdoch inspected the coat and nodded approvingly when his son looked to him for advice.
“What do you think, Truman? Do you like that one?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, Papa. It’s blue and looks mighty warm.”
“Try it on, see how it fits,” suggested Baldemaro.
Murdoch nodded and helped Truman out of his spring coat. He took the sling off of Truman’s arm and helped his boy into the coat, then fastened it. It had wooden buttons on the front with a corduroy collar and cuffs.
“How does it feel, Truman?” Teresa asked.
“Good. Warm. Could I go out to see how warm it is?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Baldemaro replied.
“Thank you.” Truman stepped out into the cold crisp air. When a gust of wind blew, the boy was moved, but he felt no chill. He walked back into the store with a big grin.
“Okay, we’ll take it. Do you have any gloves or mittens for him?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure. Over here.” Baledemaro led the trio to a section with hats, gloves, and scarves.
Murdoch picked up a pair of dark blue warm flannel gloves and pulled them onto his son’s hands.
“How do those feel, Truman?”
“Soft and warm, Papa. May I have them please?”
“Of course, son. We can’t have you getting chilled and catching cold, now, can we?”
“No, Papa. Thank you,” the boy said as he hugged Murdoch.
“You’re welcome, son. Well, we better pay for this and go on to our next stop. How much do I owe, Senor Baldemaro?”
“Twelve dollars, Senor Lancer.”
Murdoch paid for the coat and gloves and shook Senor Baldemaro’s hand. Truman shook the store owner’s hand, too, and thanked him. Murdoch took his boy by the hand and they left the store with Teresa behind them.
“Truman, you take care of this coat. Do you hear me?”
“I better not see it anywhere but on your body or hanging on your hook in the foyer. If this coat is mistreated, you will get a spanking. Understand?”
Teresa had Truman’s spring coat in her hands and followed Murdoch and her brother down the boardwalk. The trio walked into the barber shop and sat on the bench, waiting for their turn to be served.
Mr. Higgins, a resident in the town, was in the chair, having a shave. When the barber, Manuel, finished, Mr. Higgins paid and left, nodding at Murdoch on his way out.
“Good Morning, Mr. Lancer! Are you here for a trim?”
“No, Manuel. My son, Truman, needs a trim. He wants the same style and keep his ears covered, just trim it and make it neat, please,” Murdoch answered.
“Sure thing. Come on, Truman. Climb into the chair.”
Truman climbed in as he was told and Manuel put an apron on the boy to collect the trimmings.
Fifteen minutes later, Truman was released from the chair with neat, shorter hair, but his ears were still covered. Murdoch paid for the service and he and Truman thanked Manuel before leaving.
“Where are we going now, Papa?”
“We are going to the stage depot so Teresa and I can get our tickets to Cross Creek, where we will catch the train to Sacramento.”
Murdoch had told his youngest son about the trip he was taking with Teresa to Sacramento. The boy was a little put out that he didn’t get to go, but when he learned that Scott and Johnny were going to look after him, his spirits rose again. Truman adored his older brothers and loved spending time with them.
They walked briskly to the depot. The little boy had to take three steps to every one of Murdoch’s in order to keep up. When they finally arrived at the depot, Truman was out of breath.
“Are you okay, son?”
“You walk too fast, Papa!”
Murdoch chuckled. “I’m sorry son. I’ll try to slow down some.”
The trio walked up to the window and Murdoch ordered the tickets. The earliest they could leave was on the 3 pm stage the following day. By the time Murdoch and Teresa had agreed on the time, there was a line of impatient people behind them. Murdoch lifted Truman to sit on the counter and allowed him to count out the amount of money necessary to purchase the tickets. Miss May had talked to Murdoch at the Winter Family Night, held the previous evening at school, and told him that Truman was struggling a little with counting money and to give him some opportunities to count money. Truman had counted out the bills easily, but was getting confused while counting the coins. He was losing confidence and becoming frustrated as he heard the exasperated sighs of the people in line behind Murdoch.
“Come on! Get the kid down and count the money yourself, Lancer! We’ll be here all day!” Baird Bailey said. He’s the father of the three boys who had assaulted Truman the day before Thanksgiving.
Murdoch turned and glared at the man. Normally, he would have ignored such a comment, but he wanted to finish his business quickly and get his boy away from that man. He lifted Truman and set him on his feet, then finished his business. Truman stood with his face buried in Murdoch’s coat, embarrassed at his inability to count the money quickly and efficiently.
Murdoch wrapped an arm around his boy’s shoulders and one around Teresa’s shoulders and walked his family out of the depot. They walked to the orphanage and asked to see Father Ortiz.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Chapter 2
Father Ortiz came to the door of the orphanage and led the Lancers to his office. There was a little boy who was about Truman’s age sitting on the bench outside the office, looking very worried and unhappy.
Father Ortiz sighed in exasperation when he saw the child.
“Tomas, what mischief have you gotten into this time, son?”
The boy sighed and blushed, noticing that Murdoch, Truman, and Teresa were watching this interaction with interest. He stood up and answered the kind, yet stern, priest.
“It involves a mouse and an apple pie, Father Ortiz.”
“I see. Well, we’ll discuss it after our guests have departed. Go back to your dormitory and sit on your bed. I will come and get you.”
Tomas scurried off to the dormitory as Father Ortiz gently ushered the Lancers into his office. Truman wondered what would happen to Tomas when the priest dealt with him.
“Now then, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? We’d like to thank you again, Truman, for your generosity. The children have more confidence in themselves with their new clothes and we don’t have to eat our meals with water dripping on our head,” Father Ortiz said. “That was a totally unselfish and gracious act of kindness that I have never witnessed before in one so young,” Father Ortiz continued.
“Thank you, Sir,” the boy replied shyly.
“Truman and I have come up with an idea and Teresa came to help us get organized if you approve of the idea,” Murdoch began explaining their presence.
“Oh, and what idea is this, young man?”
“I’d like to have a party here for the orphans. We’d have a feast, presents, singing, and my brothers said they would find a tree for the dining hall,” Truman answered.
“A party for my children? How thoughtful! How did this come about?” Father Ortiz asked.
“Well, I asked Truman last night what he wanted for Christmas, and he told me he didn’t need anything. Well, that shocked us, of course. We all know seven year old boys always “need” marbles, candy, and other things. I made some suggestions, and he asked if the children here would like those toys. So, I suggested the party, and Truman agreed. So we came to ask your permission,” Murdoch explained.
“I see. I think a party is an excellent idea. When do you plan to have this party? I assume we want to use the dining hall here, right?” Father Ortiz asked.
“Oh, we’re delighted you think so, Father Ortiz. Murdoch and I are going to Sacramento tomorrow for some shopping. We’ll be home on the 21st, so let’s have it on the 22nd or 23rd,” Teresa said.
“Well, Christmas is on a Monday this year, which makes Sunday Christmas Eve Day. Let’s have it on the 22nd. I want the children well rested on the 23rd and 24th for Mass and other preparations,” Father Ortiz answered.
“That will be fine. We’ll have food and the children can make the ornaments for the tree, while my brothers go cut one down,” Teresa started planning.
“What do you think about that, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Sounds good, Papa. I get to help Johnny and Scott get the tree for the party and for our Christmas, too?”
“Sure. The tree for the party will have to be found the morning of the 22nd. You can go with your brothers to find it and chop it down, then bring it here. I’m sure Teresa and the nuns can organize dinner. What shall we have for dinner, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Some turkey, ham, and maybe some food the kids like. What about the decorations?” Truman asked.
“I can get my sewing circle to bring supplies and help the children make ornaments for the tree. Are you going to shop for presents?” Teresa asked.
“That sounds like a good idea, Teresa. I’m going to help pick out the presents. Father Ortiz, what should we get for them? How many do you have? Will Tomas get to come to the party?” Truman asked.
“Whoa, slow down, young man. I suggest simple gifts for the children, perhaps marbles and blocks for the boys, and dolls for the young girls. Perhaps some sewing or embroidery for the older girls. I don’t have many older boys. William is my oldest. He is fourteen and enjoys art. All of the other boys are nine or younger. William is an excellent helper and I hope he can get a scholarship to a good art school. Tomas will be disciplined, but he will be able to attend the party if he behaves between now and then,” the priest said, giving suggestions and answering Truman’s question.
“Would any of the little boys want a stuffed bear? My brother, Johnny, gave me a bear for my birthday and I love that bear. It helped me when I got hurt before Thanksgiving,” Truman said.
“You’re not giving up that bear are you, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“No, Papa. Maybe you could find a few in Sac’mento,” Truman answered.
“Oh, good. Johnny took a lot of time to pick out that bear for you. I’ll be glad to look in Sacramento for some bears for you to give,” Murdoch said, reassured.
“You’re welcome, son. Do you want the children to know about the party or keep it as a surprise?” Murdoch asked.
“We can tell them there’s gonna be a party, but keep the other stuff a secret,“ Truman answered.
“That’s a great idea, son. Father Ortiz, we thank you for your blessing and cooperation in having this party for the children,” Murdoch said.
“Oh, no, Mr. Lancer, it is I who wish to thank you and your generous and thoughtful boy here. The children will be thrilled. I must say, Mr. Lancer, that you and your family were blessed when Johnny found Truman,” the kind priest answered.
Truman blushed and bowed his head. Murdoch patted his youngest on the back encouragingly and smiled.
“Yes, we have been blessed. Thank you for the compliments. Truman is a lot like Johnny in many ways, including how he takes compliments. We must be going now. We’ll get the ball rolling when Teresa and I return from our trip. In the meantime, I’ll remind my older boys to stop by and see where you would like the tree placed, then they will be able to pick out an appropriate size for the Mission. Have a great day, Father Ortiz.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. Your family has been most generous and kind to my children and we do appreciate it,” the priest said.
“Father Ortiz? Do you have a piano here? Do thetheyknow Christmas songs?” Truman asked as they were leaving the office.
“Yes, Truman, we have a piano and the children do know Christmas songs. Do you like to sing, Truman ?”
“Yes, Father. I thought we could sing and have hot cocoa before they open their presents. I’ll sing for them, too.”
“That sounds wonderful. Have a wonderful day and I hope you and Teresa have a safe and happy trip, Mr. Lancer.”
“Thank you, Father. Have a wonderful afternoon and we will see you on the 22nd,” Murdoch replied.
After the Lancers left, Father Ortiz went to discipline Tomas. Apparently, the boy had rescued the mouse from a cat in the alley. The mouse had been napping in the boy’s shirt pocket, exhausted from his near-death experience, when the boy tripped over a piece of firewood and the mouse woke up and scurried away. Tomas had chased it into the kitchen corner and knocked the freshly baked pie off the counter when he lunged for the mouse.
Even though the priest understood the boy’s benevolence in rescuing the mouse, Tomas had to be punished for bringing the mouse into the building. The boy received ten swats on his bottom with the paddle and had to stay in the dormitory for an hour.
“The Lancers are having a party for all of you children a few days before Christmas. I want you to try your best to behave so you can join us. I’m proud of you for saving the mouse, but don’t bring any more of those critters in the building. Do you understand, Tomas?”
“Yes, Father Ortiz. I’m sorry,” Tomas apologized as he wiped the tears with one hand and his stinging bottom with the other.
Father Ortiz smiled at the boy, gave him a hug of forgiveness, then ruffled the boy’s hair as he released the boy.
“When your hour in here is over, get your chores done and wash up for supper, Tomas,” Father Ortiz gently reminded the boy.
The trio had dined at the café for lunch and socialized with their friends in town, and now they were on their way home. Truman fell asleep on the way back to the ranch. He had chattered excitedly about the party for the first twenty minutes of the trip, then quickly ran out of steam. Teresa pulled her little brother over, placing his head in her lap and rubbing his head soothingly with one hand as she held his hat with the other hand. Murdoch looked over and smiled at the obvious love Teresa was giving to the child.
Murdoch truly felt blessed. He had his sons home with him, his ward, who was like a daughter to him, and a new son to love and father and spoil. This boy was a real blessing to the whole Lancer family. His generosity and loving nature had helped Murdoch come out of his shell and learn to openly show affection not only to Truman and Teresa, but to his grown sons as well. He and Johnny had grown closer and there were fewer rows. They still disagreed on some things, but father and son were now able to discuss their issues instead of shouting at each other. The whole household was happy about that.
When the surrey reached the front of the estancia, Jelly came up and took the reins from Murdoch so he could gather Truman into his arms. Cipriano was there to take the boy while Murdoch climbed off the surrey. Teresa climbed down with Murdoch’s helping hand. Once Truman was back in Murdoch’s arms, Cipriano gathered the boy’s spring coat and the blankets that were on the back seat and handed them to Teresa. Then, he and Jelly took the horses and surrey to the barn and cared for the team. Murdoch had thanked them for their help quietly. Teresa opened the door and put Truman’s coat on his hook, then put the blankets on the couch before going to the kitchen to help Maria prepare the evening meal. Murdoch placed his youngest boy on the couch and wrestled the new coat off, being careful of the child’s shoulder. He remembered that Truman had not used his sling again after trying on the new coat and he did not seem to be suffering, so Murdoch decided to leave the sling off and ask his boy about it when he woke. After taking Truman’s boots off and covering him with a blanket, Murdoch went to wash up. He decided to try to work on a list for the party and a list of instructions for Johnny and Scott to follow concerning Truman. He wanted to be sure the boy didn’t overdo anything until they were certain his shoulder was completely stable.
About an hour later, Truman woke up and pushed the blanket off. He noticed he was at home, looked around the great room and saw Murdoch working at his desk. He walked over to Murdoch’s desk and leaned his head against his Papa’s arm.
Murdoch looked down at the boy’s head and smiled.
“Hello, son. Did you have a good nap?”
“Yes, Papa. Are we having supper soon? I’m hungry. Where are Scott and Johnny?”
“Scott and Johnny aren’t home yet, but they will be here, soon. Supper is in about an hour. You, your brothers, and I are going to have a discussion after supper about what I expect while Teresa and I are on our trip. How’s your shoulder feeling? You didn’t have your sling on for most of the day.”
“Oh, it’s a little sore, but it doesn’t hurt like it did before.”
“Well, you don’t have to wear the sling anymore as long as you promise not to do too much with that arm. I’ll ask Sam to check it over.”
Just then, the door opened and Johnny and Scott ambled in.
“Hello, boys. Busy day?” Murdoch greeted his older two sons.
“Man, those cows are really stupid, Murdoch,” Johnny said.
“I told ya so!” Truman exclaimed.
“Yes, you did, big boy. How was your day? I see you got your hair trimmed. It looks nice,” Scott responded.
“Thank you, Scott. We had a busy day. We went to Morro Coyo, I got a new winter coat and gloves, my hair was cut, we saw Father Ortiz, and we had lunch at the café and saw a lot of our friends. We’re having the party on the 22nd and we have to get the tree for the Mission. The kids there will know about the party, but the other stuff will be a surprise,” Truman said, with a deep breath at the end.
“Well, it seems you three accomplished a lot today,” Scott observed.
“Yes, and we bought the stagecoach and train tickets to Sacramento,” Murdoch added. “The stage leaves at 3pm tomorrow. I’ve been working on a list of instructions which I want to review with you boys after supper tonight, so don’t stray,” Murdoch said.
“Okay. I’m goin’ ta get my bath. See ya at supper,” Johnny announced. He ruffled his little brother’s hair, then turned and gave Scott a friendly swat on his arm as he passed his big brother.
Scott laughed at Johnny’s antics, then lifted Truman into his arms.
“Hey, little brother. So, you had a busy day with Papa and Teresa, huh? Did they behave?” Scott asked.
“Yes, they were really good. Teresa held me while I slept on the way home,” Truman replied.
Scott smiled and hugged his brother close, rubbing his back.
“Did you wake up before you came home?”
“No, I woke up on the couch a little while ago. Papa says I don’t hafta wear my sling as long as I take it easy.”
“That’s one of the things on my list. You better go wash up for supper and make sure Johnny doesn’t use all the hot water. I’m going to get the bags out of the attic. Truman, you need to get your boots on and go feed your boys.”
Scott put the child down and gently squeezed his right shoulder.
Truman put his boots on, then went to the foyer and put his new coat on. After he left, Scott sat in the chair in front of Murdoch’s desk.
“What’s up, Scott?”
“I know you have your tickets already, but do you think Truman is ready for you to be gone?” Scott asked.
“Are you having doubts about your own ability to look after your brother?”
“No, I was just wondering if he’s ready to be apart from you. He’s been awfully clingy with you lately.”
“Well, he was seriously hurt just before Thanksgiving. I’m surprised he didn’t have any nightmares after the assault. His sense of security was compromised, so I suppose he felt he needed to be close to me to feel safe again. We’re not going far, you can reach us by telegraph, and we’ll only be gone 4 days. We’ll wire as soon as we know which hotel we’ll be using. Sam, Cip, Jelly, Val, and Maria will be here if there are any emergencies. You’ll do fine, Johnny will do fine, and Truman is in very good hands. I’m not worried, okay, Scott? Relax and have a good time with your little brothers. We’ll talk about it more after supper.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll go wash up. See you at supper.”
“Yep, I’ll be there.”
Murdoch stood up as Scott left the room. After dragging the valises out of the attic, Murdoch took his to his room and put one in Teresa’s room. He then returned to his room and started organizing his clothes.
At 6 0’clock, the family reconvened at the dining room table. Johnny helped Truman fix his plate, then the family joined hands for the blessing. During dinner, the family chatted about the work and how their days went.
“Boys, did you get the line shacks restocked?”
“Mostly. We made a list of what each line shack needed. We found most of the supplies in the storage shed, but there are a few things we need to get in town,” Scott answered.
“Okay. You can take the buckboard to town tomorrow when you take us to meet the stage. What about the herd? Were they moved to the south pasture as I asked? Did we lose any?”
“We almost lost one, but Johnny took after him and got him back into the herd. He was a young calf who strayed too close to the ravine. As Truman pointed out this morning, they aren’t very smart animals. The others were fine. They are all now happily grazing in the south pasture,” Scott answered again.
Murdoch looked over at Johnny, who had his head down and was shoveling food into his mouth.
“Johnny? Were you injured during this rescue?”
Johnny swallowed the bite that was in his mouth, washed it down with milk, and turned to Murdoch with a surprised look on his face.
“Because Scott is doing all the talking.”
“Well, Scott doesn’t have food in his mouth every time you ask a question.”
Truman giggled at his brother’s answer. Johnny grinned at the little boy and continued to eat.
“Okay. Remember, boys, after supper, we’re having a discussion in the living room.”
The Lancer sons nodded in response.
So, after the meal was finished and the table was cleared, the Lancer men settled in the living room while Teresa went upstairs to pack. Murdoch sat on the couch between his older sons and pulled his youngest onto his lap.
Murdoch reviewed his list before he started speaking.
“Now then, Truman is not to ride without Sam’s permission. If he gets permission, it is to be under close supervision.”
“Do you understand, Truman?”
“Good. Second, you need to try on your Sunday shirt, suit and shoes. If they do not fit, Scott will take you to Green River for a new suit and shoes. You have to have a well-fitting suit for church.”
Scott nodded his understanding that the suit business would be his responsibility.
“Bedtime is 8:30. NO exceptions. Naps are to be no longer than 2 hours. He doesn’t have to have a nap every day, but if Truman gets tired and falls asleep, make sure he sleeps for no more than 2 hours. Trevor and Mickey are Truman’s responsibility. He has to take care of them. That means feeding, grooming, and spending time with them.”
“Right,” Scott answered. Johnny and Truman nodded.
“I’d prefer you three guys spend this time together and I hope you can do your ranch work and chores together as much as possible. If you have to go on an errand or something comes up that Truman does not need to be involved, leave him in the care of Maria, Cip, or Jelly. If Truman needs discipline, I will leave it to your discretion. I trust you, Scott and Johnny, to handle the situation appropriately.”
The boys nodded their understanding.
“I’ll be good, Papa.”
“I know you will. My boys are good people and I love them very much.”
Scott smiled while Johnny bowed his head.
“I will wire as soon as I can and let you know where we can be reached in case of an emergency. TRY not to have any emergencies while I’m gone, okay?”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll keep them in line, Murdoch,” Scott said with a smirk.
“An’ who’s gonna keep YOU in line, Scott?” Truman asked.
Johnny and Murdoch laughed out loud.
“You want a spanking now, little one?” Scott threatened with a grin.
Truman and Johnny laughed at their older brother’s mock severity.
“Settle down, now. Are we clear on these instructions? I would like to take Truman to see Sam tomorrow to have his shoulder examined and we will follow Sam’s instructions to the letter. Understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” Scott answered.
“Yes, Papa. We’ll listen to Uncle Sam.”
“Good. That’s all. Just use your heads and everything will be fine. Truman, you have an hour before bedtime to play and I’ll tuck you in tonight,” Murdoch stated.
Murdoch nodded and set the boy on Scott’s lap, then went to his desk to get his newspaper and settled in his chair by the fire.
“Truman, do you know how to play Chess?” Scott asked.
“I know the pieces and how they move, but that’s all.”
“Would you like to learn?”
“So I can play with you and Johnny?”
“Yeah, I wanna learn! Are you an’ Johnny gonna teach me?”
“Yep, you can sit with us while we play and we’ll teach you, okay?”
Scott set the boy on the floor and moved to sit on an ottoman where the Chess table was standing while Johnny sat on the other ottoman and pulled Truman into his lap. The two older brothers played the game and taught the youngest Lancer some strategies.
Murdoch watched his boys for a few minutes and smiled. The sight warmed his heart and he knew for sure that they would be just fine while he took Teresa on this short trip.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Chapter 3
The older Lancer sons enjoyed teaching their younger brother the fine art of Chess. Truman caught on fast and asked all sorts of questions, such as “why did you move the rook there? You could have knocked his knight away” and “when are you going to get rid of that queen?”
Murdoch chuckled at the boy’s comments, but he laughed even harder at the facial expressions his older sons displayed.
Truman loved sitting with Johnny and heckling Scott to make him move a piece faster.
Too soon, though, the little guy started drooping and his questions and comments were fewer and farther between. Johnny smiled at Scott when he realized the boy on his lap was sound asleep.
“Murdoch,” Scott whispered.
“Yes?” Murdoch replied as he looked up from his book.
“True is asleep,” Scott said.
“Okay.” Murdoch set his book down, stood up, and walked to where his sons were playing their game.
Johnny stood up and handed his little brother to their father. Murdoch cradled his youngest gently and smiled at the angelic face.
“Need any help?” Johnny asked.
“I have him, thanks. You two finish your game. We’re going to town early tomorrow so I can have Truman checked by Sam, then we can have lunch together before Teresa and I leave. Oh, if you have the opportunity, please help Truman with counting money, especially coins, okay? He needs the practice.”
“Sure, Murdoch,” Scott replied. Johnny nodded in agreement.
The older Lancer boys whispered their good nights to Truman, even though he was asleep, then went back to their game.
Murdoch took the boy to his room, prepared him for bed, and tucked him in, making sure the boy’s bear was close by.
The Lancers had their breakfast together in the kitchen the next morning. Everyone was jovial and excited except Truman. He had come down the stairs quietly and scowling. No amount of cajoling, friendly bantering, or concerned enquiries and assurances could lift the boy’ somber mood.
Murdoch quietly observed his youngest son’s reactions to his siblings’ attempts to improve Truman’s mood and he was troubled to see the frown that continued to mar the boy’s face.
“Johnny and Scott, would you please load our luggage into the buckboard and hitch the team while Teresa finishes up in here? Truman and I are going to take a short walk.”
The older Lancer sons nodded their agreement and left the kitchen to do as they were asked. They hoped Murdoch could find out what was bothering Truman, but they had a good idea what it was.
Murdoch stood and held his hand out for the boy to take. Truman complied and walked to the foyer with Murdoch, where they donned their coats and strolled to the courtyard. Murdoch sat on the bench and pulled the boy closer so he was standing in front of Murdoch and facing him. However, the child was tense with his head bowed and he would not look at Murdoch. The patriarch lifted his youngest boy’s chin so he could look the boy in the eye.
“What’s wrong, Truman?” Murdoch asked kindly.
“I don’t want you an’ Teresa to go to Sac’mento. You can shop in Green River. I promise I won’t peek an‘ I‘ll be good.”
Murdoch laughed and pulled his young son onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around his boy and hugged him gently.
“Truman, son, you are a good boy. We’re not leaving because we think you’re not. Teresa has been here a long time without a break. I promised her last Christmas that I would take her to Sacramento to shop this year. You know that a Lancer always keeps their promise, right?”
“You know that Scott and Johnny, Jelly, Maria, Cipriano, Val, and Uncle Sam will all be here to look after you. Did you know that Scott and Johnny are really excited about taking care of you while Teresa and I are in Sacramento? I bet they’re going to spoil you rotten and spend lots of time with you. Won’t that be fun? Just you guys hanging out together?”
“I guess so.”
“I bet you’ll have a lot of fun. I need you to keep an eye on your brothers for me. Make sure they don’t get into mischief, okay?”
“Okay, Papa….I’m just worried something will happen to you an’ Teresa. I’m scared.”
“I understand. Everything will be fine. It’s a short stage ride to Cross Creek and not too long of a train ride to Sacramento. We’ll send a telegram when we get there, okay?” Murdoch reassured the boy with a gentle kiss on the boy’s head.
“I know it’s the first time I’ve been away from you since you came to us, but I trust your brothers to take good care of you and everything will work out just fine. We’ll only be gone for 4 days.”
“Okay, Papa. You’ll be careful and take care of Teresa?”
“Yes, I will. You’ll be careful and take care of Mickey and Trevor and your big brothers?”
“Yes, I will.”
“That’s my boy. I love you so much, Truman. You are a good boy with a wonderful heart and a sharp mind. We are so very happy you are with us.”
Murdoch hugged his son tightly, yet mindful of the boy’s sore shoulder.
“How’s your shoulder today?”
“Does it hurt?”
“Good. Let’s go get our hats and gloves and we’ll go to town and see Uncle Sam. Ready to go?”
“Yes, Papa. I love you, too, and I love my sister and brothers, too.”
Murdoch set the boy down and took him by the hand, leading him back into the foyer to get their hats and gloves. Then, they walked outside and met the rest of the family at the buckboard.
“Hey, Murdoch. Is everything okay?” Scott asked.
“Yes, everything is fine. Thanks for helping out. As soon as we get to town, we’re going to drop in on Sam. Then, we can drop off our baggage at the depot,” Murdoch said.
“De nada. Okay,” Johnny said with his slow, easy smile.
The family climbed onto the buckboard and took their places. Murdoch and Teresa were up front and the boys were in the back. Scott and Johnny were sitting on bales of hay, facing the road behind them with Truman between them.
“Did you have a good walk with Papa, True?” Scott asked.
“Do you feel better now?”
“Good,” Scott said as he put an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“Do you know what we’re gonna do after Papa and Teresa leave?” Johnny asked, conspiratorially.
“No, what?” Truman asked.
“We’re gonna get some supplies from the store and load them up, and maybe we’ll get a special treat. Whatcha think of that?” Johnny asked.
“Sounds like a plan. Could we get peppermint sticks and hot cocoa?” Truman asked eagerly.
“If that’s what you want and you help us load the buckboard, I don’t see why you couldn’t have that as a treat,” Johnny replied.
“Really? Great!” Truman exclaimed happily, his good humor restored.
Scott chuckled and squeezed his little brother’s shoulder affectionately.
The rest of the trip was spent amicably with Truman leading the family in Christmas carols.
When they reached the outskirts of town, Murdoch drove to Sam’s office and residence. After parking the buckboard, he climbed down and helped Teresa down. Scott walked to the tailgate and hopped down lithely while Johnny hopped over the side gracefully. Johnny turned around and lifted Truman down from the wagon, settling the boy on his left hip and carrying him into the building.
Sam had heard them pull up and opened the door before all the family members had disembarked.
“Good morning, Lancer Clan! To what do I owe this pleasure?” the kind doctor called.
“Good morning, Sam! I’d like you to check Truman’s shoulder. He didn’t wear his sling for most of yesterday, but it didn’t seem to harm him. We’d like to know if it’s stable enough for him to ride and return to normal activities,” Murdoch explained.
“I see. Well, come on in out of the cold,” Sam replied as he led the family inside.
“Hi, Uncle Sam.”
“Hello, Truman. How are you?” Sam asked.
“Fine, thanks. How are you?”
“Just fine, my boy, just fine. Johnny, bring Truman on in here and set him on the table,” Sam instructed.
“Okay. Up ya go, lil cowboy,” Johnny said as he set his brother on the examination table. Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa followed.
Truman frowned when he noticed Teresa had entered, too. Sam noticed this and asked Scott and Teresa to wait in the other room stating that it was too crowded in the small room. Teresa started to protest, but Scott understood and steered her to Sam’s living room where he fixed a cup of coffee.
Once his older sister and brother had left the room, Truman smiled at Sam in appreciation. Sam chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair.
“Can you take your coat off, Truman?” Sam asked.
“Sure.” Truman began to take his coat off and winced a little as he pulled his left arm out of the sleeve. Sam noticed and raised an eyebrow in concern.
Johnny and Murdoch noticed, too, and began to help Truman undress.
“I can do it,” the boy protested.
“I know, son, but it will be faster this way and I don’t know about you and Johnny, but I’m hungry and I’d like to eat soon.”
Truman sighed in exasperation, but nodded his agreement.
Once Truman’s coat and shirt were off, Sam examined the child’s shoulder. Truman winced a few times as Sam manipulated it, but never cried out or gasped.
“Well, young man. Your shoulder is almost as good as new,” Sam said.
“Almost?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, it’s a little stiff from lack of use and that’s why Truman is sore. So, what you need to do, young man, is use it. Stretch it a few times a day and easy lifting only. I want you to soak in a warm bath, as warm as you can stand it, understand? Johnny and Scott will have to help you with the water,” Sam explained.
Johnny and Murdoch nodded their understanding and agreement.
“What about ridin’, Sam?” Johnny asked.
“He can ride with supervision, but no galloping, understand, young man?” Sam replied.
“Yes, sir,” Truman answered.
“Good. Okay. You may get dressed, now. Enjoy your time with your brothers and I’ll come out tomorrow for a visit if I can.”
“Okay, Uncle Sam.”
Johnny helped the boy get dressed and put his coat on as Sam cleaned up and Murdoch went to tell Scott and Teresa the report about Truman’s shoulder.
Johnny let Truman climb onto his back for a ride into the front room.
“Sam, we’re going to lunch. Would you like to join us?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, sure. Let me put a sign out and lock up. Are we walking or riding?” Sam asked.
“Well, I’m ridin’ ,” Truman said.
The others laughed and Scott patted his younger brother on the back. They left the warmth of the house and waited patiently as Sam left a note on his door and locked up. They strolled down to the café and entered. Murdoch asked for a table for six and the group followed the waitress to a large round table. Scott took Truman off Johnny’s back and put the boy on a chair while the others settled into their seats. Scott helped the boy take his coat off and hung it on a hook on the wall. Murdoch sat to Truman’s left and Johnny sat on the boy’s right.
The family enjoyed their lunch with their good friend and family doctor. As the time neared for Murdoch and Teresa to board the stage, the youngest Lancer started to get quiet and somber. Johnny looked down at his little brother and noticed how quiet he had become. Johnny wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders and squeezed gently.
“Are you finished, True?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah,” the boy replied softly.
“You wanna go outside with me?”
“Okay. Murdoch, we‘ll meet you at Sam‘s.”
“Okay, Johnny. We won’t be long.”
Johnny nodded. He stood up and lifted the boy from his chair and set him on his feet, then helped him into his coat, plunked the hat on the boy’s head and took him by the hand. They walked outside and strolled down to Sam’s house and sat on the bench to wait for the other members of the family to come and get the luggage.
“What’s wrong, lil cowboy?”
“Papa and Teresa had this trip planned from last year. What are you worried about?”
“Somethin’ bad might happen to them.”
“They’ll be alright. Papa’s a smart guy and won’t let anything happen. Truman, Papa taught me about having blind faith a while back.”
“It’s when you know in your heart that everything will turn out fine. Even though you won’t be able to see Papa and Teresa for a few days, you still know they love you and will come home, safe and sound. You have to believe in your heart that everything will be fine. You don’t see Papa when you’ve been at school all day, right? Do you worry about him then?”
“No, I worry about stayin’ outta Chris Bailey’s way. Besides, I know you and Scott and the other ranch guys will help Papa if he needs it.”
“Well, ok. You see, though, that’s blind faith, ‘cause you know in your heart that Scott an the other hands an I will help Papa if he needs it, right?”
“Yeah,” Truman said, suddenly realizing that Johnny was right.
“You don’t hafta worry about those Bailey boys anymore. They’re at that reform’tory school an they’ll be there for quite a while, okay?”
“We’re gonna have a good time, just us Lancer boys. Keep your chin up, lil cowboy. Scott an I are here for ya.”
“Okay. Thanks, Johnny.”
“De nada, mi nino hermano. Te amo.”
“Te amo, Johnny.”
Just then, the rest of the family arrived with Sam. They said their good byes and loaded the buckboard, then headed to the stage depot. Johnny and Scott unloaded the luggage as Murdoch and Teresa down from the seat and lifted Truman out of the back. Johnny drove the team to the store and parked it, left the supply order to be filled with the store owner, and strolled back to the depot where he found his family sitting on a bench inside. Truman was sitting between Murdoch and Teresa and leaning on Murdoch, who had his arm around the boy’s shoulders. Scott was reading a local paper while standing next to Teresa. Johnny walked over and stood next to Scott, rising up on his toes to read over his brother’s shoulder. Scott looked over at his brother, sighed in exasperation, and turned toward Johnny so his shorter and younger brother could read the other page as he finished the article he was reading.
Murdoch had watched this interaction with some amusement and chuckled at the result. Johnny caught his father’s eye and grinned.
Just then, and sooner than Truman wanted, the stage arrived and stopped outside. The passengers disembarked and luggage was handed down. Then, Scott and Johnny picked up Murdoch and Teresa’s bags and carried them outside to be stowed on top of the stage. Murdoch and Teresa stood up when the “all aboard” was called. Truman remained seated on the bench with a dejected expression on his face.
“Come along, Son,” Murdoch said gently, as he held his hand out for the lad to take.
Truman took Murdoch’s hand and walked outside with him. He let go of Murdoch’s hand and hugged Teresa good-bye.
“Bye, T’resa. Keep an eye on Papa. Have a safe trip. I love you,” the boy said.
“Good-bye, Sweetie. We’ll get the presents for the orphans. You be good and keep an eye on your brothers, okay? I love you, too,” Teresa responded.
Scott helped Teresa into the stage after he and Johnny each gave her a quick hug and kiss.
Truman turned to Murdoch and looked up with moist eyes. Murdoch lifted his youngest and hugged him close.
“Good-bye, Papa,” said a little broken voice.
“Good-bye, Son. Remember what we talked about and keep an eye on your big brothers. I love you very much and everything will be just fine. We’ll be home on the afternoon of the 21st and I hope you’ll come to meet the stage. Be good. I love you,” Murdoch said, trying to reassure the boy.
“I love you, too, Papa. Please be safe,” Truman replied shakily.
“We will, Truman, we will. Good-bye, now.”
Murdoch set the boy on his feet and wiped a tear from Truman’s eye. He then turned to his older sons and gave each an affectionate, yet manly, squeeze on the shoulder.
“Good-bye, boys. Look after the ranch and your brother here. I know everything will be just fine. I’ll send that telegram as soon as I can, but you might not receive it until tomorrow.”
“Good-bye, Murdoch. Have a safe trip. Yeah, good-bye, Old Man, an’ don’t worry, everything will be alright,” Scott and Johnny said simultaneously.
Scott and Johnny gave their father a final wave as he settled in the stage. Once the stage took off, the boys turned to their little brother, who was standing on the platform with his head bowed and a slight tremble flowing through him. Johnny crouched down and gently lifted his brother’s chin. Truman’s cheeks were tear-stained and his eyes were still moist. Johnny enveloped the small boy into his arms and gave him a hug.
“Remember the blind faith, lil cowboy,” Johnny whispered into Truman’s ear. He felt the boy nod.
Truman sniffled, wiped his eyes and stood up straighter with his chin up as soon as Johnny released him. Scott smiled at his little brother’s act of pulling himself together and gave the child a pat on the back. Each big brother took a small hand in theirs and walked towards the general store to pick up the supplies and load them into the buckboard.
After the supplies were loaded, and peppermint sticks were purchased, the Lancer sons walked back to the café for hot coffee and hot chocolate.
When the boys finished their treat, they climbed aboard the buckboard and settled on the seat, two big Lancer boys on the outside, and one small Lancer boy between them. The Lancers enjoyed a leisurely ride home.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Chapter 4
Johnny, Scott, and Truman arrived in the Lancer compound at 4:45 pm. They unloaded the buckboard and Truman helped Johnny put the team of horses in their stalls, fed, and groomed them as Scott and Cipriano put the buckboard away.
Once their chores were finished and Mickey and Trevor had been cared for, the Lancer boys made their way into the hacienda to bathe before dinner. Scott dashed upstairs to find clean clothes and also retrieved Truman’s nightshirt, long johns, robe, and slippers, and took them to the bath house where Johnny was fixing a bath for their little brother. The boy was undressed, but had a towel wrapped around him to prevent a chill.
“Hey, guys. How’s it going? I have your nightshirt, and robe, Truman. You can put it on after your bath,” Scott said.
“Why do I hafta put my nightshirt on after my bath? Do I hafta go to bed? Without supper?”
“No, lil cowboy, not til 8:30. It would just be easier if you’re ready for bed, then if you fall asleep down here, we can take ya up an’ tuck ya in without botherin’ ya to change your clothes,” Johnny explained.
“Oh, so do I get to eat supper an’ stay down here? Can we play Chess?” Truman asked.
“Yes, True. You get to eat supper, and yes, we’ll play Chess. It’s time for you to get in the tub, now,” Scott answered.
Truman dropped his towel on the bench and climbed into the tub with Johnny holding his arm so the boy wouldn’t slip and fall. He sat back and sighed happily.
“Does that feel good, True?” Johnny asked.
“Yep. Y’all can go. I can bathe myself,” the boy nicely invited his brothers to leave.
The boys laughed and left the boy to his bath.
“We’ll be back in a little bit to be sure you’re alright,” Scott said.
Johnny laughed and waved to his lil brother.
Johnny and Scott went into the kitchen and had a cup of coffee, then Johnny went upstairs to get his own clothes. Maria was cooking their supper.
“Senor Scott, where is the nino?” she asked.
“He’s in the tub, Maria.”
“He is okay in there by himself?”
“He’s fine. I’m going to check on him soon.”
“He’s fine, I’m sure. It’s about time to check on him, anyway, but I’ll wait for Johnny to return.”
“Fine,” replied Maria.
Johnny returned with a change of clothes and headed for the bath house. Scott joined him, eager to check on the boy and to appease Maria’s worries about the youngest Lancer.
Johnny knocked on the door and was given an “okay” to enter from the young voice within.
Johnny and Scott entered and smiled at their brother who was rinsing the soap off his torso.
“You about ready to get out and let Scott have a bath?” Johnny asked.
“Aren’t you getting a bath, too?” Truman asked.
“Well, yeah. What are you sayin’? I need a bath that bad?” Johnny asked.
Scott snickered and received a glare for his trouble. Truman giggled at his brothers’ antics.
“I think ya both need a bath, Johnny,” Truman answered with a grin.
“Well, then, ya better get out ‘cause it’ll be crowded in there with the three of us!” Johnny exclaimed.
Scott and Truman both laughed at this. Scott helped Truman out and handed the towel to the little boy. Johnny grabbed another towel and dried the child’s hair. Once Truman was dried and dressed, Johnny took him into the kitchen for hot chocolate. Maria brought a mug over and gave the boy a kiss on his cheek. Usually, Truman didn’t like to be kissed by Maria or Teresa, but he allowed it ths evening because he was relaxed and happy and was grateful to Maria for fixing the hot chocolate for him.
“De nada, nino,” Maria replied with a smile. She turned to Johnny and asked him where they wanted dinner served.
“In here is fine, Maria. Gracias.”
“De nada, Juanito,” Maria answered, tousling Johnny’s hair. Johnny and Truman grinned at each other.
When Scott finished his bath, he came out and Johnny went in. Once all the Lancer boys had had their baths, they ate their supper in the kitchen. They helped clear the table and clean the kitchen.
Scott, Johnny, and Truman entered the living room and headed for the Chess board.
“What color do you want to use, True?” Scott asked.
“White, cause you take so long to make your opening move, that I’ll hafta go to bed before you finally choose what piece you’re gonna move,” Truman replied petulantly.
Johnny laughed so hard, he had to hold his stomach and tears were rolling down his cheeks.
Maria dashed in, thinking Johnny was hurt.
“What’s wrong, Juanito?”
“He’s fine, Maria. He’s laughing at something Truman said,” Scott explained.
“Oh. Mi esposo cannot come to get me tonight. I am staying here, si?”
“Sure, Maria. Make yourself at home. Is there anything I can get for you?” Scott asked.
“No, gracias,” Maria answered. “Buenos noches, chicos.”
“Good night, Maria,” Scott replied.
“Bu-Buenos noch-noches, ma-ma-mamacita,” Johnny said, trying to get his laughter under control.
“Buenos noches, Maria,” Truman said.
“Buenos noches, nino,” Maria responded, then she went to the room she used when she stayed overnight.
The boys played their game once Johnny settled down. Johnny watched and gave Truman suggestions and guidance, but allowed the boy to make his own decisions and learn from his mistakes.
The clock chimed the half hour, telling the Lancer brothers that it was time for the youngest to go to bed.
“Time for bed, True,” Scott said.
“We’re not finished, yet,” he whined.
“We can finish tomorrow night. You need to go to bed. You didn’t have a nap today,” Scott said.
“So?” Truman was becoming belligerent.
“Hey, cut that out. You don’t want to get in trouble your first night with us, do ya?” Johnny said in a warning tone.
“No,” the boy said contritely. “I’m sorry, Scott and Johnny.”
“We understand. You’ve had a busy day, but now it’s time for you to rest. We’ll go for a ride tomorrow and you can help us deliver the supplies to the line shacks, okay?” Scott said, ever the diplomat.
“Okay. Who’s gonna tuck me in?”
“We both will,” Johnny said.
“Yep, we both will. Come on, True,” Scott said.
The boys went upstairs and Scott lit the lamp while Johnny lifted Truman to his bed, where he kneeled and said his prayers, then scooted under the covers. His big brothers each gave him a kiss on the head, said their good nights, and left after turning the lamp down low.
The next morning was crisp and cold. The brothers ate a hearty breakfast before heading out to do their chores. After feeding and spending time with Mickey and Trevor, Truman joined Scott and Johnny in the buckboard and they went out to restock the line shacks with the rest of the supplies they had purchased in town the day before.
As Truman was carrying an awkward, yet lightweight, box of coffee and canned beans, he tripped on the front step and fell, tearing his pants on the corner of the board. He cursed a blue streak in Spanish as he stood up and gasped in surprise when two stinging smacks landed upon his backside.
The boy bowed his head in shame, knowing he’d been heard by at least one brother, most likely Johnny, who spoke Spanish as fluently as Scott read Shakespeare. He saw the toes of Johnny’s boots appear before his watery eyes and watched in trepidation as a hand came toward his face. When Truman flinched before the tanned hand of his older brother reached his face, the han stopped in mid-air. Next, the boots disappeared, but Truman then felt an arm around his shoulders as Johnny knelt next to him. Scott watched with concern, but let his younger brother handle the situation.
“Truman, I was not going to hit your face. I was going to lift your chin so we could have a talk, eyeball to eyeball. Do you trust me?” Johnny asked quietly.
The trembling boy nodded.
“Look at me, Truman,” Johnny commanded in a serious but not unkind tone.
Truman obeyed and looked into Johnny’s eyes. The boy had tears streaming down his face.
Johnny’s face had a serious expression, but not Madrid-like. He didn’t want to scare his brother, but to make his brother realize this was a serious situation.
“What did I tell you about swearing?” Johnny asked.
Truman sniffled and replied, “You told me I was too young and too polite to be using words like that.”
“That’s right. What did I ell you would happen if I heard you swearing again?”
“I’d get a serious spanking,” Truman replied, biting his bottom lip.
“Right. Now, are you hurt? What happened to make you swear like a common vaquero?”
“I tripped on the front step and spilled the stuff an’ I tore my pants. I’m okay, though,” Truman replied.
“I see. Well let’s get these things cleaned up and put away. Then, you and I have business to attend to,” Johnny said.
“Yes, Johnny. I-I’m sorry I sweared. I was really mad and didn’t know any other words to say.”
“I understand that, but you still broke the rule and you still have to be responsible and accept the consequences. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Johnny. D-do you still love me?”
“Of COURSE I love you, lil cowboy! If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t take the time to teach you right from wrong. We wouldn’t care what ya did. But we DO love you and that’s why we hafta teach you some hard lessons, sometimes.”
“Let’s get busy.”
So the older Lancer brothers helped their little brother clean up the box of goods, then finished restocking and organizing the line shack. When everything had been stored and situated to their satisfaction, they left the line shack. Scott sat on the tail gate of the wagon as Johnny took Truman by the hand and led him behind the storage shed. There was old tree trunk laying on its side and Johnny sat there. He pulled Truman over his knees and rubbed the boy’s back. After securing the boy’s left arm against his stomach, Johnny grabbed his little brother’s right hand and held it tight.
“Ten, Truman,” he warned the child.
Truman nodded and the spanking began. Truman never cried out, but when Johnny was finished and set the boy on his feet, there were fresh tears on the child’s face. Johnny’s own eyes were a little moist, too. He had hated spanking his little brother, but he knew it was necessary to teach the boy not to swear.
Johnny pulled out his bandana and wiped the boy’s face, then pulled Truman into a fierce embrace and held him tight.
“You did real good, lil cowboy. I’m proud of you and I love you very much. No more swearing, got it?”
“Yes, Johnny. I love you, too,” Truman replied.
They stayed that way for what seemed like a long time. Scott became worried and hopped off the tail gate to see if his brothers were okay. What he found was a heart-tugging scene. He cleared his throat and noticed Johnny wipe his eyes on Truman’s coat before looking up at Scott.
“Everything okay, here?” Scott asked.
“Yep, we’re fine,” Johnny answered.
Johnny stood, still holding Truman, and followed Scott back to the buckboard. Scott took Truman from Johnny so the middle Lancer son could climb aboard. Scott hugged his little brother, then hoisted him onto the front of the wagon before climbing aboard himself. By the time Scott was settled and ready to start the team, Johnny had Truman on his lap. Johnny held Truman all the way back to the ranch.
When Jelly and Cipriano ambled over to help with the team and the wagon, they noticed the unusual quietness in the Lancer boys. Jelly looked up at Scott questioningly and received a shake of the head in return, as in “don’t ask now, I’ll tell you later.”
Johnny handed Truman to Cipriano and jumped down , then gathered the now sleeping child and carried him inside. Truman was lovingly settled onto the couch. Johnny pulled the boy’s boots off an wrestled the coat off. Truman stirred long enough to help Johnny with the removal of his coat, then settled down again for an afternoon nap. Johnny covered his little brother with a blanket, rubbed the child’s head, and sat in the corner chair to contemplate what he had had to do.”
Scott was outside with Jelly and Cipriano, explaining what had happened and why Johnny and Truman were so quiet.
“Did True hurt hisself?” Jelly had asked, having noticed the boy’s torn pants.
“He tripped and tore his pants, but he’s fine. He swore a blur streak in Spanish when he dropped his box of supplies, and Johnny spanked him. Johnny’s pretty upset it, but I think he will be fine. Just give him and Truman some space and time and don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s over and done with. Truman needed to be taught a lesson about swearing and, hopefully, he learned,” Scott had answered.
Jelly and Cipriano nodded their understanding and approval of how the situation had been handled and would say nothing more about it.
When Scott entered the great room, he looked around for his brothers. Johnny was sound asleep in the armchair next to the hearth with his feet propped up on the footstool. Scott didn’t see Truman and assumed Johnny had taken the boy to his room. When Scott walked over to throw a blanket over Johnny, he saw Truman asleep on the couch. Johnny stirred a little, but continues sleeping, when Scott put the blanket over him carefully. Scott walked over to the desk and sat down, then started entering the receipts for the supplies into the books.
About an hour later, Truman stirred and woke up completely. He looked around and saw Johnny asleep in the corner chair. When he heard papers rustling, he turned towards Murdoch’s desk and saw Scott working there. The boy climbed off the couch and walked over to his older brother.
“Hey, True. Have a good nap?”
“Yeah. I-I’m sorry about swearing.”
“I know you are. You made a mistake and I hope you learned from it.”
“I did. I’m going to do my best not to swear anymore.”
“You do that. I need you to go up and try on your suit. Come down here when you have it on so I can check the fit.”
“Okay, Scott. I promise to be a good boy. Does Johnny still love me? Do you? Are you and Johnny gonna tell Papa I was bad?”
Scott reached down and lifted his little brother into his lap and hugged the boy close.
“Listen to me, Truman. You are a very good boy. You made a mistake and you were punished for it. You’ve learned from your mistake and you’ve promised to do your best not to make the same mistake. That’s all we can ask of a seven year old boy. Johnny and I love you very much. We’ll tell Papa what happened and that we took care of the situation. He might want to talk to you about it, but you’ve already been punished for it, so that part is over. You know, though, that if you swear again, your punishment will be harder, right?”
“Good. Now, go on up and try on your suit,” Scott instructed.
Scott gave his brother another quick hug and set him on his feet.
When the child had reached the upstairs landing and could be heard walking to his room, Johnny opened his eyes and sat up. Scott heard his brother moving and looked over to where Johnny was sitting.
“Playing possum, little brother?”
“Yeah. You handled that well.”
“Thanks. He just needed reassurance.”
“Yeah. I hated doin’ it, Scott, but I told him in August that if I heard him swearing again, I’d have to give him more than two swats.”
“He swore in Spanish in August?” Scott asked.
“Yeah. I gave him two swats then and a warnin’. I guess it worked pretty good for four months. Mickey had accidentally stepped on his toes.”
“Oh. Well, I think you handled the discipline and talking to him very well, Johnny,” Scott praised his younger brother, who promptly lowered his head.
“Thanks, but I’m not sure I wanna be praised for hittin’ a little boy,” Johnny replied quietly.
“I understand, Johnny, but you didn’t hit him inappropriately. You spanked him. It’s different.”
“Yeah, maybe so. Can we drop it? I wanna move on.”
“Okay, Johnny,” Scott said. He wouldn’t press the issue tonight.
Johnny nodded and stretched.
Soon, the youngest Lancer came back to the living room in his suit an socks.
“Where are your shoes, Truman?” Scott asked.
“Shoes? You didn’t say I hadda wear my shoes, too!”
Johnny snickered. Truman turned to him and cocked his head to the side, gazing thoughtfully at his older brother as if to ask, ‘are we okay?’
Johnny gave Truman a big smile and winked at him. Truman relaxed visibly, then returned the gesture and smile, turned back to face Scott.
“Well, hustle back up there and get your shoes, boy,” Scott instructed.
Truman heaved an exasperated sigh and went back to his room to find his shoes and carried them back to the living room.
“Okay, here I am.”
“Put the shoes on.”
Truman sat on the couch and wedged his feet into the shoes. He limped over to his brothers, who were now standing together at Murdoch’s desk.
“They hurt, Scott.”
“You’ve outgrown them, True. Stand still and let me check the length of the pants and the fit.”
Scott looked at the pants and felt the waist. The pants were too short and they were getting snug around the middle. The shirt wasn’t staying tucked in because it was too short, and the sleeves on the jacket were too short, as well.
“Well, it looks like Truman has grown a bit. We’re going to town tomorrow, brothers.”
“Goodie! Can we get a peppermint stick and hot cocoa, too?” Truman asked enthusiastically.
“I think so, IF you behave at the store,” Scott said.
“I will. I promise. A Lancer always keeps his promises,” Truman replied solemnly.
Johnny and Scott smiled at their little brother and nodded.
“Yes, he does, lil cowboy,” Johnny replied while hugging the boy to his side.
“Scott, can I take these shoes off, now? They’re hurting my feet!”
“Sure, Truman. Go change into your ranch clothes. We have afternoon chores to do before supper,” Scott replied.
Before Scott finished what he was saying, the boy was sitting on the floor and pulling his shoes off. Truman ran upstairs and changed his clothes. He folded his too small suit and carried it and the shirt downstairs.
“Why didn’t you leave the suit upstairs?” Johnny asked.
Truman picked up his shoes and placed them with the suit on the table in the foyer.
“I thought we could take it to the Mission and give it to a boy there. It’s too small for me, but it’s clean and not torn or anything. The shoes aren’t scuffed, either, just too tight,” Truman said seriously.
“You are a very thoughtful and caring young man, Truman. We’re very proud of you,” Scott said.
“Yep, we sure are, lil cowboy. Let’s go feed those animals of ours,” Johnny said.
Truman smiled shyly and nodded.
“Okay, but I gotta put my boots on first,” Truman replied.
Truman found his boots and put them on, then followed his brothers to the barn. After the animals had been fed and bedded down for the night, the Lancers returned to the estancia’s kitchen for supper. They finished their game of chess , which Truman lost gracefully, then went to bed.
The next morning, he Lancers went to town to buy a new suit and dress shoes for Truman. After they had found an appropriate suit which Truman had to try on with the new shoes that fit (but still had room for growth), and a new white shirt, they put the items on the counter. Johnny gave Truman a nickel, a dime, an five pennies.
“What’s this for?” Truman asked.
“For being a good boy and trying on the suit and shoes without a fuss,” Johnny replied.
“Thank you. How much is it?”
“You’re welcome. Count it.”
“That’s a dime, right?”
“Yep. How much is it worth?”
“No, try again.”
“Yep. What’s that one?”
“Yep, How much?”
“Ummmmm, five cents?”
“Yes, now how much are they together?”
“Very good, Truman. Now add the pennies. How much are they?” Scott asked.
“One cent each. How many pennies do you have?” Scott corrected, then prompted, his little brother.
“Oh, for the love of God, tell that kid to hurry up so we can pay for our things,” Baird bailey complained loudly.
There were other customers waiting to pay for their goods, too, but they were patient and willing to browse while the older Lancer sons helped their little brother count coins and decide which treat he wanted to purchase. These other customers were friends of the Lancers and had benefited in one way or another by the Lancer patriarch’s generous philanthropy.
Baird was not among friends when he complained and did not receive any support from the other customers in the store. His boys had bullied some of their children at one time or another and the townspeople had not been saddened by the boys’ sentence and transfer to the reformatory school.
Baird Bailey was very angry with the Lancers because he believed it was their fault his three boys were in a school for children who were violent towards other children. They were too young for jail, but not socially adjusted enough to be among the general population due to their violent tendencies.
“Be quiet, Bailey! Let the boy count his money. He’s not harming anyone,” Charles Lane said. Mr. Lane had carried Truman to Sam’s house after Bailey’s kids had beaten the boy the day before Thanksgiving.
“He’s holding ME up! I want to get these presents for my boys and get them to the post office before it closes,” Bailey replied through clenched teeth.
“By all means, go right ahead, Mr. Bailey,” Scott offered.
Bailey nodded to him curtly, then purposely bumped into Truman, causing him to drop his pennies and fall hard on his left shoulder against the counter. Before anyone knew it, Madrid had made an appearance. Johnny’s eyes were cold and his gun had cleared leather faster than the blink of an eye. Everybody in the store went stock still, watching the confrontation in awe. They weren’t afraid, though, for they knew Johnny wouldn’t put their lives in jeopardy.
“Pick the pennies up and apologize to Truman,” Johnny ordered in a low growl.
Bailey was stunned at the transformation. His mouth opened and closed without making a sound.
“I’d do as he told you if I were you, Mr. Bailey,” Scott warned. He was standing behind Johnny and leaning against the counter.
Bailey was in front of Johnny, standing to Truman’s right, facing Johnny and Scott. Johnny was standing near the counter, holding his gun on Bailey.
Bailey set his things on the counter and picked up the pennies, then handed them to Truman.
“Thank you,” Truman said quietly.
“You’re welcome. I’m sorry I knocked into you. Are you okay?” Bailey asked, looking up to Johnny for approval of his apology.
Johnny gave the merest nod.
“I’m okay,” Truman answered. He wasn’t, really, but he wanted to appear tough in front of the other people in the store.
“Are all of your pennies there, Truman?” Johnny asked.
“How many did you give me?”
Truman counted the pennies.
“They’re all here, Johnny.”
“Good. Step beside Scott, Truman,” Johnny instructed.
Truman did as he was told. He’d seen Johnny like this only twice before, but he knew better than to argue.
“Pay for your things and leave, Bailey. Don’t ever go near our brother again,” Johnny warned.
Bailey nodded, paid for his things and left. Johnny holstered his gun and nodded to the others in the store, thanking them for their silent support.
They nodded back and went about their business as Johnny turned to check on his brother.
“You okay, True?” Johnny asked, as a concerned Johnny Lancer.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Truman looked down at the change in his hand and looked up to Johnny. “I have twenty-five cents, Johnny,”
Johnny grinned and Scott smiled.
“That’s right, lil cowboy. What do you want to buy?” Johnny asked.
“Some peppermint sticks and licorice sticks, and what can I get for fifteen cents?”
“You can get some more candy or save it for another time,” Scott said.
“I’ll save it. Can you help me find presents for Papa, Teresa, Cip, and the others?”
“Sure, Truman. Let’s pay for your suit and candy and we can talk about some ideas over a cup of hot cocoa, okay?” Scott suggested.
“Sure,” Truman agreed.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Chapter 5
The Lancer boys paid for the suit and shoes and Truman paid for his bag of sweets. He handed the rest of his money to Scott to hold for him. While they walked, Scott noticed Truman rubbing his left shoulder. He stopped his brothers and pulled them to the side.
“Truman? Are you alright? You’re rubbing your left shoulder,” Scott said.
“It’s a little sore, but I’ll be fine. Mr. Bailey bumped me into the counter,” Truman replied.
“Yes, I saw that. Do you want Uncle Sam to check it?” Scott asked.
“No. Let’s go get our hot cocoa,” the boy replied.
“Okay, but if it still hurts later, you tell us, got it?” Johnny said.
“Okay, Johnny,” Truman replied.
They made their way down to the café where they ordered two coffees and one hot cocoa.
“Are you boys having lunch?” Claire asked.
“Sure, I’m hungry,” Johnny replied with a grin.
“You’re always hungry, Johnny,” Scott replied.
“We’ll take a look at the menu, thanks,” Scott said.
“I’ll be right back with the menus and your drinks,” Claire said.
“Thank you,” replied Scott.
“So, Truman, what do you want to get for Papa and Teresa?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know. What do you think I should get for them? I have about twenty-five dollars saved.”
“Really? That’s great, Truman!” Johnny praised the boy.
“Well, let’s make a list and come up with a plan,” Scott suggested.
“Okay,” Truman agreed.
The coffees and hot cocoa arrived with the menus.
“Scott, can I have the catfish, please?” Truman asked.
“Sure. Pick two vegetables.”
“Mashed potatoes and corn. Do we get biscuits, too?”
“Yes, Truman. They come with each entrée,” Claire answered.
“What’s an entrée?”
“Your main meal,” Scott answered.
“Oh. Great,” Truman replied.
Johnny and Scott smiled at their brother. Just then, Val came into the café for his lunch. Johnny called him over to join them.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Val asked as he took a seat between Scott and Johnny.
“We had to buy a new suit and shoes for Truman. He outgrew his other suit and shoes,” Scott replied.
“Oh, yeah, he is growin’ like a weed. How ya doin’, True?”
“Good, how are you, Val?”
“Good, kiddo, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I’m havin’ the catfish. Do you like catfish, Val?”
“Yeah, I do. What are your brothers havin’?”
“I don’t know. They take forever an’ a day to make up their minds.”
Val and Claire laughed at this. Johnny gave his little brother a mock glare and quiet growl. Scott smirked at his two younger brothers. Truman grinned at Johnny and giggled, which made Johnny smile and shake his head.
“I’ll have what the kid’s havin’, Claire,” Johnny said.
“I’ll have the trout with peas and carrots,” Scott ordered.
Johnny and Truman made a face at this news. Neither one were crazy about peas and carrots.
“And you, Val?” Claire asked.
“I’ll have the trout with mashed taters and corn, and coffee, too, please,” Val replied.
“Sure. I’ll be right out with the coffee.”
Claire left the Lancers and the sheriff alone to socialize.
“So, what else have you guys been doin’?” Val asked.
“Usual chores, Val. You bored? Wanna come and do some physical labor?” Johnny asked with a smirk.
“I have quite enough ta keep me busy here, thanks.”
“Like what?” Scott asked.
“Like keeping my eye on three brothers who go by the name ‘Lancer’.”
“Who? Us? We’re angels, Val,” Truman declared.
The other three men laughed at the boy.
Scott reached over and gently squeezed Truman’s neck.
“Any excitement today?” Val asked.
“You tell him, Johnny,” Truman said.
“Okay, True. We were in the store and I gave True some money to buy some candy because he’d been real cooperative about trying on a new suit an shoes. He was counting the money when Baird Bailey complained about Truman holding him and everyone else up. Nobody else was complainin’. Charlie Lane spoke up against Bailey, an’ Scott just told him ta go ahead an pay for his stuff. He was buyin’ presents for his boys and he wanted to get them to the post office. So on his way to pay, he bumped into True on purpose and knocked the pennies outta his hand. I had him apologize ta True and pick up his pennies, then he paid an’ left,” Johnny said, finishing his tale.
“I see. Did Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid have Bailey apologize?” Val asked.
“Madrid,” Johnny answered.
Val nodded. “I don’t blame him, but he better be careful around people like Bailey. Anyone hurt?”
“True could have been hurt,” Johnny snapped.
“Settle down, amigo. I’m on your side. I’m glad ya had witnesses an’ no shots were fired. Just be careful, okay? I’ll keep an eye on Bailey. What was he buyin’ for his boys?”
“Shirts, I think. I didn’t see anything else,” Scott replied.
“Well, the guards will check the packages. If there’s any contraband in them, it’ll be confiscated and Bailey himself might get a jail sentence,” Val said.
Their lunches arrived with hot biscuits and the foursome busied themselves with preparing their biscuits and vegetables with butter and other available condiments.
“What’s contraband?” Truman asked.
“It’s stuff that people in jails and prisons are not allowed to have, like knives or anything that could be used as a weapon,” Val explained patiently.
“Oh, like candy isn’t allowed at school?”
“Right,” Scott confirmed.
They ate their lunch and enjoyed the conversation with Val. They discussed cattle, town gossip, and the party in Morro Coyo.
After a while, Truman became very quiet. He had contributed to the conversation, but was now slowing down. Johnny looked over at him and noticed the boy was sitting back in his chair, still holding his fork, with his eyes closed.
“Truman, are you finished?” Scott asked, once Johnny had directed his attention to their brother.
“Hmm?” The boy asked.
Johnny gently took the fork from Truman’s hand and placed it on the table. Truman had eaten all of his fish, a biscuit, most of the corn, and all of the potatoes. Claire had given him a child’s portion of the meal.
“Just leave him alone. Let him rest,” Johnny said.
“Okay. He’s had a busy morning,” Scott agreed.
Just then, Andy came into the café, looking for Val, but he was pleased to see the Lancers were in the cafe, too. It would save him from making a trip to the ranch to deliver a telegram.
“Hey, Scott and Johnny. I have a telegram from your Pa. Val, ya better come to the post office. Mr. Bailey is causing a problem,” the young deputy reported as he pulled out the telegram for Murdoch and handed it to Scott.
Andy looked down at the sleeping boy and smiled.
“He’s worn out?”
“Yep,” Johnny answered. “Ya want me to join ya, Val?”
“Naw, ya better not, Johnny. I don’t want Bailey accusing y’all of any wrong doins’. Andy an’ I can handle it. Thanks, though. Here’s my share for lunch. I’ll see ya later,” Val said, then left.
“Bye, Val.” Johnny and Scott said, almost simultaneously.
“What did Murdoch say in the telegram, Scott?” Johnny asked.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Let’s see. They’re at the Grand on Main Street. The city is decorated. They’ll be home on the 21st. We’re to get the tree for the estancia tomorrow and the tree for the Mission on the 22nd….’Give True hug from Papa and T.’…That’s all,” Scott said.
“Okay. Looks like we know what chore we have for tomorrow. It sure has gotten colder. Think we’ll have snow?” Johnny asked.
“We might. Let’s pay for our lunch and get this little guy home. We can drop his old suit and shoes off at the Mission in Morro Coyo on our way home.” Scott suggested.
“Oops,” Johnny said.
“We didn’t bring the old suit and shoes.”
Scott sighed. “Well, that’s all right. We can take it when we go to the party.”
“Great idea! Sometimes, I get so proud of you, Scott.”
“Thanks, I think!”
Scott paid for the meal while Johnny lifted the dozing child out of his seat. Johnny put him on the floor while Scott eased the coat on him.
“Wake up, True. We’re going home,” Johnny said.
“Huh? Where’s Val?”
“He had to go, Truman,” Scott replied as he fastened the child’s coat.
“I’m going to send a reply to Murdoch. I’ll be right back,” Scott said.
“Okay, we’ll wait in here,” Johnny said. “Tell them we’re fine an’ the ranch is still standin’,” Johnny suggested.
Scott chuckled. “Okay.”
Scott was gone for ten minutes. When he came back, Johnny handed their packages to him. Johnny put Truman’s hat on his head, then took the youngster by the hand and led him out into the cold air. They walked to their horses and Johnny lifted Truman up onto Barranca while Scott secured their purchases in his saddle bags. Johnny mounted up and settled behind Truman as Scott untied his horse’s reins, then he, too, mounted his horse and the Lancer brothers rode toward their home.
Murdoch and Teresa were having a wonderful time shopping for their family and closest friends. Murdoch had already found several books he wanted Truman to have, including The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore. He planned to read it to the whole family Christmas Eve. Teresa had purchased a couple of flannel shirts for each of her brothers.
After a long day of shopping, they went back to their suite to rest and put their packages away. They would clean up and have supper in an hour. When they retrieved their key, they also received a telegram.
“What does it say, Murdoch? Who is it from?” Teresa asked once they were safely ensconced in their suite’s living room.
“It’s from Scott. Everything is fine and Johnny says the ranch is still standing,” Murdoch said, chuckling. “Truman is behaving and they are having fun. Truman has new suit and shoes. They’ll see us soon and send hugs to you. Truman sent a special hug to me,” Murdoch said, paraphrasing the message, with a smile.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. So, I’ll see you in an hour for supper? We can go over our shopping lists and make more plans for the party,” Teresa suggested.
“That sounds fine, darling. I’ll see you later. I’m going to catch a few winks.”
The Lancer boys had a nice ride home. They stopped along the way to fix bits of fencing and check on the herds. When they arrived at the ranch, Jelly was waiting for them with a message.
“Miss May stopped by a lil while ago and told me to tell ya that Truman has dress rehearsal for the Christmas program Saturday morning at ten. He is to wear his suit and tie. He can bring a change of clothes and be at the Green River Community Center by 9:45 ta make sure all the young’uns are there.”
“Okay, Jelly, thanks,” Scott said. “Did you hear that, Truman?”
Truman, sitting on Barranca in front of Johnny, nodded, indicating he understood what was expected of him.
“Not a problem atall,” Jelly replied. “How’s the tyke doing today?”
“He’s bein’ real good today. We had lunch with Val and Andy brought us a telegram from Murdoch,” Johnny replied.
“Oh, what did the boss say?” Jelly asked.
“They’re fine and having a good time,” Scott said.
“Good. Well, I guess we better get these animals fed and bedded down,” Jelly suggested.
“Yep,” Johnny replied as he dismounted. He lifted Truman from Barranca and set him on his feet.
“Johnny, can we go for a ride later?” Truman asked.
“Maybe. It looks like the weather is gonna turn bad, though,” Johnny replied. “Are ya tired?”
“I napped on the way home,” Truman answered.
“Well, we’ll let the horses rest after we feed and brush ‘em. You can have one of your peppermint sticks after you put your suit and shoes away. If the weather holds, we could go for a short ride before supper, deal?” Johnny asked.
“Okay. Where’s my suit and candy?” Truman asked.
“In my saddle bags, and here’s your money. Go put it away and I’ll bring your shoes in,” Scott said, as he handed the packages to Truman.
“Okay.” Truman took the packages and his money and ran inside.
Johnny and Scott looked after the little guy with smiles on their faces.
“He’s a great kid,” Jelly said.
“He sure is, Jelly,” Scott agreed.
“Yep. We better go supervise the peppermint stick eatin’ or that kid will be sticky all over and so will the couch,” Johnny said.
Scott and Jelly laughed, but they couldn’t disagree. Jelly took the horses to their stalls and unsaddled them. He knew that as soon as they had Truman settled with supervision, they would be back to look after their trusted steeds.
Johnny and Scott entered the estancia and walked into the kitchen. Maria had been baking cookies and swatted Johnny’s hand when he reached for a hot one off of the baking sheet.
“Wait til they cool, Juanito, or your tongue will burn,” Maria warned.
Johnny sighed. “Si, mamacita,”
Scott snickered at his impetuous brother and received a glare in return. Scott shrugged and Johnny grinned.
Truman came down the steps with a peppermint stick firmly grasped in his hand.
“Hola, Mamacita. Do you have any hot cocoa?” Truman asked sweetly.
“Si, nino. Have a seat and roll up your sleeves. I do not want to scrub peppermint off your cuffs.”
Maria provided a plate for Truman to rest his peppermint stick on. The boy rolled up his sleeves and started sucking on his candy.
“True, stay here in the kitchen and keep Maria company. When you finish your treat, come on out and do your chores,” Scott instructed kindly.
“Okay, Scott. Where are you guys goin’?”
“To the barn,” Scott replied.
“Mmhmm,” Truman replied, with the candy in his mouth.
“You are to stay in here until that is all gone and wash your hands when you finish,” Scott directed further.
“Yeah, Murdoch will have a cow if you get that on the couch, lil cowboy,” Johnny said, adding his two cents worth.
“A cow? He’s already got so many, what’s one more?” Truman asked.
Maria started laughing at the boy’s comment and laughed even harder when she saw the looks on the older Lancers’ faces. They looked at their brother with expressions of surprise.
The big brothers looked at Maria, then each other and shook their heads in wonder.
“Where does he come up with that stuff?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know, but he sure is funny,” Scott said.
“Yeah, he is.”
Johnny and Scott went to the barn, still shaking their heads at their brother’s precociousness.
When Truman finished his snack, Maria helped him wash up and roll down his sleeves. He went to put his coat on and walked to the barn. On his way, he and Trevor, who had ambled out of the barn to greet his boy, chased Dewdrop around the yard. The goose caused such a ruckus that Jelly, Scott, and Johnny ran out of the barn to see what the commotion was.
“Young’un! What are you doin’ terrorizin’ Dewdrop?” Jelly fussed at the boy.
“Just playing, Jelly. We wouldn’t hurt the goose. I’d keep my eye on him, though. He might get to come to Christmas dinner!” Truman said, with mock seriousness.
Johnny and Scott, Cip, and the other hands who had heard the boy, started laughing. They laughed harder when Jelly stomped over and picked up the now, somewhat calm, goose.
“I oughta take a switch to your backside, young’un!” Jelly huffed. He didn’t mean to, but Jelly had just frightened Truman.
The smile that had been on Truman’s face turned into a withering glare.
“You KNOW Scott an’ Johnny wouldn’t let ya do THAT, Jelly!” Truman exclaimed.
“You’re right, they wouldn’t,” Johnny said from behind Truman. “True, go get your chores finished an’ we’ll go for a ride before supper.”
“Okay. I need to feed and water Trevor,” Truman said.
“You go do that and see if Maria needs anything you can pick from the garden,” Scott instructed.
Truman nodded as Johnny patted his back. Truman scampered to the kitchen to get the lunch scraps to feed Trevor and he put the scraps in his pup’s food dish and fresh water in the other dish. While Trevor ate, Truman went back to the kitchen and asked Maria if she needed him to pick vegetables for her. She gave him a basket and asked for some red and green peppers and onions. After Truman had picked and gathered the requested vegetables, he returned the full basket to Maria and received a hug and cookie in return. Truman went outside, munching on the last bite of the cookie and looked for his brothers.
“Hey! What are you eating there, lil cowboy?” Johnny asked.
Truman swallowed and smiled. “Maria gave me a cookie and a hug for collecting the vegetables for her,” the boy replied.
“Well, good for you! You ready ta ride?”
“Yep. Where’s Scott?”
“Right here, little brother. Go get your hat and gloves, True, and meet us in the stable,” Scott said.
“Okay,” Truman said as he scampered off to retrieve his hat and gloves.
Truman returned to the stable and helped Johnny saddle Mickey. Truman wished he could saddle his horse by himself, but he understood he needed help because he wasn’t tall enough to heft the saddle onto Mickey’s back. Truman’s job was to catch the cinch strap from under Mickey’s belly and bring it up so Johnny could buckle it. Truman was also responsible to seeing that the bit was firmly and comfortably in Mickey’s mouth so Johnny could lift the bridle over the horse’s ears.
“Good job, True,” Johnny praised the child as he finished fitting the bridle and securing the reins.
Johnny reached down to lift Truman onto Mickey, but the boy stepped back.
“What’s up, True?” Johnny asked.
“I wanna get on Mickey myself, like you guys do,” the boy said.
“You can’t reach the stirrup,” Johnny pointed out.
“Can’t I stand on something? Please? I wanna be a big cowboy.”
“Well, I’ll bring Mickey out of the stall and you can stand on a hay bale to reach the stirrup, ok?” Johnny said.
Truman’s face lit up with a big smile and he nodded enthusiastically. Johnny and Scott grinned. It took so little to make Truman happy and this was a compromise they could reasonably execute.
So, Truman found an accessible hay bale and stood on it as he waited for Johnny to bring Mickey over to him. Johnny held Mickey still while Truman reached for the pommel and put his left foot in the stirrup. He grunted and winced as he pulled himself into the saddle, but when he sat up and put his right foot in the stirrup, he grinned with pride.
“Good job, big boy!” Scott praised him.
“Are you alright? I noticed you had to use your left shoulder there,” Johnny said.
“I’m fine,” True said.
“Spoken like a True Lancer!” Scott said.
“Ohh! That was a good one, Scott!” Johnny said, laughing.
True looked a little confused, but his face brightened again when he comprehended the pun.
“Let’s go, slowpokes!” Truman urged his brothers.
The older Lancer brothers mounted and the three of them left the stable. They stopped at the corral to let Cip and Jelly know where they were headed and how long they would be gone. The Lancer brothers rode up to where the pine trees grew full and tall. Scott and Johnny wanted Truman to have a preview of the trees they could consider as their Christmas tree and the tree for the Mission Party.
The Lancer boys enjoyed their ride up to the north ridge where previous Christmas trees had been found. Truman had been overwhelmed by the number of trees available. He talked about the trees all the way home and while they took care of the horses. He was still talking about the trees while they washed and sat down for supper.
“Did you have a good time looking for a tree for the estancia, Truman?” Maria asked.
“Si, mamacita. There are so many trees and they’re so big and I can’t pick which one we should get,” Truman said, using his arms to demonstrate the size of the trees, and nearly knocking his glass of milk over.
Johnny made a quick save with his lightning fast reflexes and caught the boy’s arm before it made contact with the glass.
Truman looked at his brother with a smile of gratitude.
“You’re welcome, True. Be careful,” Johnny replied.
“Nice save, Johnny,” Scott said.
“We’ll get a better look at them tomorrow, big boy. We’ll have to take a wagon up there to bring the tree home. Let’s eat before our dinner gets cold,” Scott said.
“Okay. I can’t wait! Papa an’ Teresa are gonna be so surprised,” Truman continued as Johnny cut the boy’s meat.
“There ya go, True. Eat your supper,” Johnny instructed the boy kindly.
“’Kay, Johnny. Thanks for cuttin’ my meat.”
“No problem, lil cowboy.”
The boys ate supper, then helped Maria clear the table and wash the dishes. When they were finished, the brothers went up to the attic to find the tree decorations and brought them down.
“Are we decorating the tree or are we gonna wait for Papa and Teresa?” Truman asked.
“Don’t you think they would want to help decorate the tree?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, but I thought about surprising’ them,” the lad answered.
“I think we better wait for them, Truman. Teresa is very into decorating for the holiday and she would be very disappointed if she didn’t get to help decorate the tree. We’ll just take the decorations downstairs and put them in that little nook off the dining room,” Scott stated.
“Good idea, Scott. What do you think, True?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, that’s good.”
“Good. D’ ya wanna play Chess with me, True?” Johnny asked.
“Sure! Is that okay with you, Scott?”
Scott smiled at the boy’s consideration. “That will be fine, big boy. I’ll play the winner.”
“Okay, but I get to be white when I play with you,” the boy said.
“Hey! Who said YOU were gonna win?” Johnny asked petulantly.
Truman looked at Johnny and shrugged. “Nobody, but when I DO play Scott, I get to use the white pieces.”
Johnny and Scott chuckled at the boy’s tenacity.
“Okay, lil cowboy. Who gets to use the white pieces when we play?” Johnny asked.
“Fine. Do you wanna go put your nightshirt, robe and slippers on before we play?” Johnny asked.
“Okay. I’ll be right back,” Truman answered, as he headed for the stairs.
“I’ll set up the board for us,” Johnny said.
Truman nodded and scampered upstairs. Ten minutes later, the boy was back in his nightclothes, his bear held in his left hand. True plopped himself on the ottoman opposite Johnny and placed his bear on his lap. He leaned forward, resting his chin on the bear’s head.
Johnny looked at his little brother and smiled.
“How’s Mr. Bear?” Johnny asked.
Truman smirked a little and said, “he’s fine.”
“Are you going to teach him how to play Chess, Truman?” Scott asked.
The boy rolled his eyes at his bigger brother and Johnny snickered.
“Ya can’t teach a stuffed bear to play Chess, Scott. He doesn’t have a brain,” Truman replied.
“Oh, well, you guys enjoy your game. I’m going to read some,” Scott said.
Johnny and Truman played their game. Truman spent time thinking through his moves, and even though he didn’t win, he learned more about the game.
“Did you enjoy the game, big boy?” Scott asked as he hugged the youngster good-night as the big brothers were putting him to bed.
“Yeah, it was fun.”
“You didn’t mind not winning?”
“Naw. Johnny says it’s just a game, but he also said I’m getting better, so I’ll beat ya some day soon,” True said.
“Oh, really? Well, I better go practice, huh?”
“Yep,” Truman said, giggling.
“Well, good night, little brother. I love you, and you were very good today. I have a feeling Santa is going to be very good to you,” Scott said.
“Who is Santa?” Truman asked.
The big brothers looked at each other, surprised the boy didn’t know who Santa was.
“We’ll tell you about him tomorrow, lil cowboy. You need to go to sleep so you can help us find that special tree,” Johnny said.
“Okay,” Truman said through a big yawn.
Johnny hugged the little guy and placed him on the bed, then Scott pulled the blankets up and tucked them around the boy. Johnny pulled Mr. Bear closer to his little brother and tweaked the child’s nose gently. Truman smiled sleepily. Scott squeezed the boy’s hand gently, then lowered the wick as Johnny told their little brother his special “good night.”
Truman had fallen asleep quickly. The big brothers smiled at the sleeping boy and left, quietly closing the door behind them. They went downstairs and sat in the living room, next to the fire.
“I can’t believe True doesn’t know who Santa is,” Scott said.
“Well, I didn’t know till I came here,” Johnny replied.
“But Johnny, you lived in Mexico with different customs. True traveled the United States. I just thought he might have seen advertisements or pictures of him,” Scott answered.
“Well, I guess we better find someone to play Santa at the party,” Johnny said.
“We can discuss it with Murdoch, first, but not in front of True,” Scott suggested.
“Okay. Wanna play a game?”
The next morning, after a filling breakfast provided lovingly by Maria for “her boys,” the Lancer brothers headed out in a wagon. Actually, Scott and Truman were on the wagon, Johnny rode Barranca alongside. He said it was so Barranca could help if they needed it, but Scott and Truman figured it was because the horse and the man were the best of friends.
They went back up to the north ridge and spent considerable time perusing their selection before finally agreeing on a full, nine foot spruce. Scott took the ax out of the back of the wagon and set it at the base of the tree. He walked over to where Truman was standing next to the team of horses.
Scott knelt in front of his little brother and grasped the boy’s arms firmly, but gently.
“Now, Truman, remember what we talked about on the way up here?”
The boy nodded solemnly, then replied, “I must listen to you an’ Johnny an’ do what you say so I won’t get hurt when the tree falls down, an’ if I don’t, you’ll both wear me out cause you want me to stay in one piece.”
“That’s exactly right, True. We’ll get worn out if we don’t keep you safe. Now, we are going to spread the tarp out on the ground where the tree will land. Then, Johnny and I are going to chop the tree down. When it lands on the tarp, we’ll wrap it up and Barranca will help us put it in the wagon,” Scott explained to the boy patiently.
Truman gave the palomino a sidelong glance, then looked back at Scott.
“Does Barranca know he’s gonna be doin’ all that hard work?” True asked.
“No, but he won’t mind,” Scott answered with a smile.
“Nope. He’s used to working and Johnny will spoil him for sure when he is put to bed,” Scott replied.
“Okay. Where do you want me to stay?”
Scott looked around at the tree and mentally measured the distance between the tree and the wagon.
“You stay right here with the team.”
“I promise, Scott.”
“Good boy. If I tell you to go anywhere, go that way,” Scott said, pointing away from the tree line in a southwesterly direction.
“Got it, Scott. Be careful with that ax. If you or Johnny get hurt, Papa will wear me out!”
Scott and Johnny chuckled.
“We’ll be careful, big boy.”
True nodded and watched as his big brothers walked to the tree. Scott picked up the ax and started swinging mightily. The older Lancer boys took turns chopping at the trunk. Then, with a directional shove, the tree fell exactly where it was supposed to fall.
However, another tree fell, missing the team and the wagon by a mere five feet. Luckily, Truman was on the opposite side and not holding on to the team’s harness, or else he could have been dragged when the scared horses ran.
The wagon didn’t get far, though. Johnny took off after it on Barranca and stopped them about a hundred yards from their starting point. Truman had backed away from the team and wagon when the horses whinnied in fright.
When Johnny returned with the team and wagon, he was livid. There, by the second fallen tree, was Baird Bailey, laughing so hard at the Lancers that he could have been knocked over with a feather. Johnny jumped off the wagon and rushed the man, making him fall backwards over the trunk and knocking him on his backside.
“What are you doin on our land? You have no right to be here and cut down our trees!” Johnny yelled at him. “You could have killed my little brother!”
“No big loss there. My three boys are in a prison!”
Johnny punched the man across his jaw.
“That’s where they belong! They have no right to live among decent folk!” Johnny yelled.
Scott was standing with Truman as they witnessed Johnny’s confrontation with the Lancers’ latest nemesis.
The man was pinned to the ground by Johnny’s body. Adrenaline and rage were the driving forces behind Johnny’s strength.
“Should we help him, Scott?” Truman asked, worried.
“He doesn’t need any right now, True. Go stand by the wagon, with the team, and stay there. I’m going to see what that man has to say for himself.”
Scott gently squeezed his brother’s shoulder before the boy walked to the wagon and started talking to the horses. Scott watched the boy for a minute to be sure the child minded and was safe, then he walked over to where his other brother was straddling Bailey, pinning his arms to the ground with his knees. Johnny was glaring at the man, with his fist raised, ready to strike. Scott was happily surprised that Johnny did not have his gun pointed at the man, even though he would have been well within his right to do so.
“What are you doing here, Bailey? Can’t you read the signs? This is Lancer land, not free, public land,” Scott said to the man.
Bailey tried to be tough, but it was hard to do when there was a man on top of him with a fist poised to bust his face open and daggers coming out of his eyes.
“Johnny, why don’t you get up so you don’t get dirty and we can get this…trash…off our land?” Scott suggested.
When Johnny looked up at Scott, the older man surreptitiously gestured towards Truman, reminding Johnny that the youngest Lancer was watching the confrontation.
Johnny nodded imperceptibly and climbed off the trespassing nuisance. Once Johnny was standing upright, he pulled his gun from his holster stealthily, so Truman wouldn’t see, and ordered Bailey to his feet. When the man had accomplished this direct order, Johnny gave his brother a sidelong glance for a second and returned his watchful gaze back to Bailey.
Scott took that as his cue to speak to Bailey.
“Bailey, I don’t know who you think you are, but you have no right to be on Lancer land without permission, cutting down our tree, and nearly killing our brother and horses. You’re extremely lucky no harm came to either or you would be facing more than charges for trespassing and destruction of private property. I will be making a statement to the sheriff. Now, get off OUR land!”
“What if I don‘t?”
“Do you really want to find out?” Johnny asked, fingering the trigger.
“Get off our land,” Scott spoke slowly and clearly so the moron would understand.
“What about my tree?” Bailey asked.
“Whose tree?” Johnny asked.
“I spent a lot of time cutting that tree down!”
“Yes, I’m sure you did, and the orphans will appreciate it. That’s one good thing I can say about you, Bailey. You picked out a fine tree, and we sure do appreciate you doing our work for us, but we weren’t going to get the tree for the orphans until the 22nd. So now, we’re going to load this tree into your wagon and our tree into our wagon. Johnny, do you want to take our tree home or this other tree to the orphans?” Scott asked.
Johnny stood and thought for a few minutes. He looked over at Truman. The boy was standing with the team, watching the confrontation with his head tilted to the side and his mouth open a little in surprise, but not close enough to hear what his brothers and Bailey were saying to each other. Johnny looked at his big brother carefully, then at Bailey. He took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. After digging in the dirt with the toe of his boot while his head was bowed, Johnny lifted his head and looked straight into Scott’s eyes.
“You better take the tree to the orphans and explain why it’s so early. I’ll take our tree and Truman home and put our tree in the house. Jelly and Cip will help. Bailey and I will go get his wagon so we can load the other tree in it,” Johnny said, relaying his thought out plan.
“Good idea, Johnny. I’ll get True to help me wrap our tree with the tarp. Be careful Johnny,” Scott replied with a warning.
“I will. Barranca!” Johnny replied, then called his horse over to him. The steed came immediately and stood still as Johnny mounted, keeping his Colt trained on the irate man. “Start walkin’, Bailey,” Johnny ordered.
The man grunted his displeasure, but started walking. The wagon was only half a mile away. Bailey climbed aboard and headed the team back to the clearing where the tree had been cut down. Scott and Truman had wrapped the Lancer tree in the tarp and secured it with rope. Truman was afraid to ask about Bailey, so he kept his mouth shut. The three men put the trees in the wagons, while Truman held Barranca’s reins for Johnny. Once the tree had been loaded, Johnny tied Bailey’s wrists together and, with Scott’s help, put Bailey in the back with the tree. Johnny walked over to Truman and took Barranca’s reins from him. Truman looked up at his big brother with so much trust and confidence, Johnny had to smile at the youngster.
Johnny patted the boy’s cheek affectionately, then walked Barranca to Bailey’s wagon and secured the reins to the back. Scott was on the driver’s seat of the wagon, ready to go.
“Barranca, go with Scott. He’ll ride you home. Be good to him, amigo,” Johnny instructed his trustworthy equine friend.
Scott and Johnny nodded to each other, then Scott turned and started the team towards Morro Coyo. Johnny glared at Bailey until the man could no longer be seen. Johnny turned and saw Truman staring after the wagon, too. He strode over to the little boy and knelt in front of him, holding the boy’s little hands in his big, tanned ones.
“Truman? Are you okay?”
“Yes,” the boy whispered.
“Good. Ya did a real good job listening to me an’ Scott an’ doin’ as you were told. That kept you safe, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I was scared.”
“I was scared for you, but you kept your head together and that was very important. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Johnny. Where is Scott going?”
“Scott is taking the tree that Mr. Bailey cut down to the Mission, then he’s taking Mr. Bailey to the sheriff in town. We’re taking our tree home. Jelly and Cip will help us get it into the living room. Then, we’ll have lunch when Scott gets home,” Johnny explained patiently.
“Sounds good,” Truman said.
Johnny pulled the boy into an embrace and hugged his brother close and tightly, relieved that the boy had not been injured. Truman hugged him back. Then, Johnny set his brother on the front of the wagon and gathered the tools and put them in the back of the wagon. After Johnny checked the ropes that secured the tree, he climbed aboard and set Truman on his lap so the boy could help him drive the wagon to the estancia.
When Scott returned on Barranca, he conveyed what had happened in Morro Coyo to his younger brothers. Bailey had been incensed at having to turn the tree over to the Mission. The padre had been pleasantly surprised and thanked Scott for thinking of them. Scott had then delivered Bailey to Sam, the Sheriff of Morro Coyo, and gave his statement of what had happened. Scott told Johnny that he would have to make a statement, too, in the morning. After delivering the team and wagon to the livery stable, Scott had untied Barranca and ridden home.
The boys ate their lunch, then, tired from the morning’s excitement, decided to rest for a little while before completing their afternoon chores. The tree was standing tall and majestic in the corner of the living room, ready for the family to trim it with decorations, new and old. Scott lounged in the red leather chair in the corner, with his bootless feet resting on the footrest. Johnny was stretched out on the couch, his boots off as well and his left arm resting across his stomach. His right arm was around a small boy laying between him and the backrest of the couch. The three Lancer boys were sound asleep when Maria came in to see why it was so suddenly quiet in the living room. When she saw the brothers resting, she smiled and covered them with blankets, giving each brother a loving kiss on their heads.
Murdoch and Teresa were out shopping again. Murdoch was really enjoying himself, picking out things for Truman. Teresa warned him that giving the boy too many things would overwhelm him, but she had to agree that there were things True deserved to have. They found several items of clothing and toys the boy would enjoy.
“What if we went ahead and bought these and only give him a few of the toys? We could save the others for special occasions. You know Johnny and Scott are going to spoil him, too. Since it’s his first big Christmas, we want to give him a lot, but too much is usually much worse than a few special items,” Teresa advised.
“How did you get to be so smart, darling?” Murdoch asked with a smile.
“Oh, just living life, I suppose.”
Murdoch chuckled and hugged her. They had already finished their shopping for the orphans and were looking for stocking stuffers.
When they had completed their shopping for the day, they retuned to the hotel with their packages and sorted everything out in piles. Murdoch had left the items he had purchased for Teresa in his room and she had done likewise with her gifts for him. So they made a pile for each of the Lancer boys from Murdoch. Teresa’s piles for the boys were significantly smaller than his. Truman’s pile from Murdoch was quite large, and Teresa gave him a look of disbelief. Murdoch gave her a sheepish grin.
“Okay, okay, so I went overboard. I just want him to have a great Christmas,” Murdoch said.
“Let’s choose five big toys and four outfits from you. The smallest toys and trinkets can go in his stocking. We’ll hold a few to be from Santa and save the rest for special occasions. Deal?” Teresa suggested.
“Deal,” Murdoch agreed with a nod.
So the two of them spent some time selecting and haggling over which toys and outfits Truman would receive for Christmas from his Papa and from “Santa” and wrapped them with paper Teresa had purchased. When all of the presents for the Lancer sons had been wrapped and tagged, Teresa wrapped her own gifts to Murdoch and other special people. Murdoch took what was left of the paper and wrapped his presents to Teresa and his special friends.
They were very happy and relieved that their shopping was finished and decided to have an early dinner and relax in their suite before turning in. They would be sightseeing the next day.
When they returned from dinner, there was a telegram waiting for them from Scott and Johnny.
“M, T. Everything is fine. Tree at home. Tree at Mission. Will explain later. Truman does not know Santa. See you Thursday pm. S & J.”
“I wonder why they cut down the tree for the Mission already? We’ll have to tell Truman about Santa, if the boys haven’t already,” Murdoch said.
Teresa nodded. “Imagine not knowing who Santa is.”
“Well, he was Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas to us in Scotland,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh, that’s right. I remember you told me and the boys about your customs in Scotland last year.”
The Lancer boys had napped for an hour when Jelly came in looking for them. He hadn’t seen them since Scott had returned before lunch, and he was concerned. The old handyman smiled at the two young men and the youngster, all sound asleep. He decided to be nice and not holler to wake them up. Instead, he gently pulled Scott’s toes and wiggled them until the young man opened his eyes. Scott smiled at Jelly, then looked over at his two younger brothers on the couch.
“Hey, Jelly. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, we were just wonderin’ where you boys were. We hadn’t seen ya since before lunch,” Jelly replied.
“Oh. What time is it?” Scott asked.
“Two? Oh, my gosh! We need to get up and do our afternoon chores.”
“Want me to wake them?” Jelly asked.
“I’ll do it. You go on. Thanks for coming to get us.”
“No problem atall, Scott.”
Scott dragged himself out of the chair, folded the afghan that had been keeping him warm, placed it on the ottoman, and walked over to the couch. He smiled down at the two “angels” sleeping nestled together. Truman had his right arm slung across Johnny’s chest and his head was resting on his big brother’s shoulder. Johnny’s right arm was resting along the boy’s back and his head was turned toward Truman’s head.
Scott leaned down and whispered to Johnny.
“Johnny, time to get up.”
“Come on, little brother. We have chores to do.”
“Mmm hmm. Okay.”
Johnny rubbed his eyes with his left hand, then rubbed the child’s head and called to True softly. Truman stirred and lifted his head. He, too, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and smiled at his big brothers.
“Hey,” the boy said.
“Hey, True. Have a good nap?” Scott asked.
“Yeah. Did you guys nap, too?”
“Yeah, we did, lil cowboy. We hafta get up now and go do some chores before supper,” Johnny replied.
“I’m ready,” True declared.
“Well, not quite, big boy. You need your boots on first. Come on,” Scott said as he held his arms out and picked up the boy so Johnny could sit up.
When Scott had the boy in his arms, Truman hugged his big brother. Scott held him close and patted the boy’s back lovingly as Johnny looked on with a smile.
The boys put their boots, coats, and hats and gloves on, then trooped outside to tend to their animals. When their chores were finished, the Lancer brothers returned to the estancia and shed their outerwear. They headed to the bath house to clean up, then joined Maria in the kitchen for supper. She had prepared chili, tortillas, and salsa for their dining enjoyment.
After supper, Scott invited Truman to play Chess with him.
“No, thanks. I want you to tell me about Santa and I want to talk about what to get for Papa and Teresa,” the boy said.
“Okay. Come sit with us on the couch and we’ll talk,” Scott said.
Truman nodded and the boys sat on the couch together. Scott pulled his the boy onto his lap and put his arms him.
“First, we need to make a list of who you want to buy presents for, then we’ll decide what to get for them, okay?” Scott suggested.
True nodded. Johnny hopped up and went to Murdoch’s desk for a pencil and pad of paper, then sat back down on the couch.
“Papa, Teresa, Scott, Johnny, Jelly, Maria, Cipriano, Uncle Sam, Val, Claire, and Miss May. Oh, and Toby, Laura, and Mary, too. Something for Mickey and Trevor, too.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of people, True. You sure you want to spend your hard earned allowance on them?” Johnny asked.
“They’re very special people, Johnny. You’re on that list, too, ya know!”
Scott chuckled and Johnny grinned in spite of himself.
“Ok, lil cowboy. Let’s start with your friends, Mary and Laura.”
“Maybe a bag of candy or ribbons for their hair or something like that?” Truman suggested.
“Those are good ideas. What about Toby?” Scott asked.
“Marbles. He needs to practice so he doesn’t lose his all the time in games.”
Johnny and Scott chuckled.
“Mickey and Trevor?” Johnny asked.
“A new brush for Mickey and a big ol’ rope bone for Trevor,” Truman said.
Johnny wrote the items on the list next to the recipients’ names.
“Anything for DewDrop?” Scott asked.
“Oh, I forgot him. Don’t tell Jelly I forgot, okay?” Truman asked.
“Sure, True,” Scott said.
Truman started laughing.
“What’s so funny, kiddo?” Johnny asked.
“We could write a promise on paper that Dew Drop will never be invited to Christmas Dinner…as the main course!” Truman answered, then laughed even harder when his brothers joined him in the laughter.
Jelly came in while they were laughing and looked at them like they’d lost their collective mind. Minds
“What’s so danged funny?”
The boys looked at Jelly, then each other, then started laughing again, holding their stomachs and shaking hard.
“Oh, never mind! I’ll see you young’uns tomorra,” Jelly groused as he left the estancia.
The boys were able to calm down after a few minutes of deep breathing and spurts of chuckles and snickers.
“Okay, big boy. That was mighty funny. What should we get for Miss May? Something for teachers?” Scott suggested.
“Naw. Everybody does that. What about a nice shawl to keep her warm?” True suggested.
“That’s very thoughtful, Truman,” Scott said.
“You’re welcome, little buddy.”
“Uncle Sam and Cip?” Johnny asked, reading the next names on the list.
“What does Uncle Sam like to do? Does he read a lot? We could get a book for him. Cip might like some pipe tobacco, and Val….,” Truman said, thinking aloud. “Oh, I know what Val needs!” Truman exclaimed.
“What’s that?” Johnny asked.
“A cook book!” Truman answered, truthfully and enthusiastically.
This answer set Johnny and Scott to laughing again.
“You’re right about that, True!” Johnny said as he wrote the items down on the list.
“Who’s next on the list, Johnny?” Scott asked.
“Claire and Maria,” Johnny replied.
“Claire deserves something special. Do they have those little angel statues at the store?” True asked.
“The little figurines?” Scott asked for clarification.
“Yeah. I wanna get one for her, Maria, and Teresa. They’ll each get a little guardian angel.” True stated.
“Okay. Well, there’s Papa and us left on this list,” Johnny told Truman as he wrote down ‘guardian angels’ on the list.
“Well, what should I get for Papa?”
“How about a new vest or a belt or a belt buckle?” Scott suggested.
“Those are good ideas. Maybe when we go shoppin’ tomorrow, we’ll find the right thing for Papa,” True said.
“Who said we’re going shopping tomorrow?” Johnny asked.
“I did. You both promised you’d help me and tomorrow is the only day left before Papa and Teresa come home,” Truman replied petulantly.
“You’re right, True. And Lancers always keep their promises,” Scott said.
“Looks like we’re going shopping. There are two people left on this list. What are you going to get for them?” Johnny asked.
Truman gave his big brother a withering glare and said, “nice try, Johnny.”
The older Lancers snickered and the boy smirked at his big brothers.
“I have an idea, True. When we are shopping tomorrow, we can send Johnny to get the mail or to see Val while you and I shop for him, then he can take you shopping for me. Do you like that idea?” Scott asked.
“Yeah! That works for me! What about you, Johnny?” Truman asked.
“Sounds good to me, guys,” Johnny said.
“Well, now that that’s settled, tell me who Santa is, please,” the youngster asked.
“Okay,” Scott agreed. Scott thought for a few minutes and began speaking.
“The name Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for the mythical character based on St. Nicholas,” Scott started.
“What does derived mean?” True asked.
“Comes from,” Scott answered.
Scott nodded, then continued his explanation.
“He is also known there by the name of Sint Nicolaas which explains the use of the two fairly different names Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas or St. Nick. St. Nicholas was a 4th century Christian bishop.”
“Saint Nicholas was a bishop? He played Chess?” Truman asked.
Scott and Johnny chuckled.
“A Bishop is a religious leader in the Catholic faith,” Scott explained. “He could have played Chess. May I continue?” Scott asked.
Johnny snickered and received a glare from Scott.
“Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would be able to marry wealthy men.
“What does pious mean?” Truman asked.
“It means having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for God or an earnest wish to fulfill religious duties,” Scott replied.
“Oh. He respected God and did what he was supposed to?” Truman asked.
“Yes. Very good. St. Nicholas was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. Saint Nicholas became revered by many as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, and the city of Amsterdam.”
“What are pharmacists and pawnbrokers?” the boy asked.
Scott and Johnny exchanged smiles. They knew that Truman was a curious child by nature, and they didn’t really mind all the questions he asked. The older Lancer brothers understood that Truman wanted to learn and by asking questions and receiving answers, he was learning, probably at a faster pace than his peers.
“Pharmacists mix ingredients to make medicines and pawnbrokers buy and sell used things,” Scott answered patiently.
“Like what things?”
“Like pocket watches and old swords and jewelry.”
“Why would someone want to sell those things? Don’t they need them anymore?”
“Sometimes, people need money in a hurry and they can’t get it from the bank, so they sell something of value to get the money they need.”
“Oh. Where is Amsterdam?” Truman asked.
“It’s the capital city of Holland in the Netherlands, which is in Northwestern Europe,” Scott answered.
“A Man named Clement C. Moore wrote a poem about Santa Claus in 1822 for his children. It was first published for other people to read on December 23, 1823. The poem is ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’ or ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’” Scott continued.
“Do we have that, Scott?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know, we might. It may have been packed with the Christmas decorations. We’ll have to ask Murdoch or Teresa when they come home,” Scott replied.
“Good children receive gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve while they are asleep in their beds,” Scott finished.
“Why do the kids hafta be asleep when Santa comes?” Truman asked.
“Well, because Santa wants you to get some rest because he knows you’ll have a very busy day on Christmas and because he wants you to be surprised in the morning. Also, Santa travels by night because his reindeer don’t like flying so close to the sun, it hurts their eyes,” Scott said.
“Oh. That makes sense, Scott,” Truman replied.
His audience had been a captive one, but now the youngest Lancer was getting sleepy and was ready to go to bed.
“Come on, big boy, you need to go to bed. We were very busy today, weren’t we?” Scott asked.
“Yeah. I’m tired,” Truman leaned against his big brother Scott’s chest and snuggled in.
“Okay. Let’s get you into your nightshirt,” Scott said.
The boy nodded. “Is Johnny comin’ , too?” Truman asked.
“Yeah, True, I’m comin’.”
The Lancer brothers went upstairs together. The two young men walked and the little one was carried. When they arrived in the child’s room, Johnny lit the bedside lamp while Scott placed Truman on his bed and helped him undress. Johnny found a clean nightshirt and brought it over to the bed. Once the boy was ready for bed, he said his prayers and hugged his brothers good-night. They tucked him in, lowered the lamp’s wick and left quietly. Truman had fallen asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
When Scott and Johnny were back in the living room, they sat on the ottomans and started a game of Chess.
“Have you finished your shopping, Johnny?” Scott asked.
“Yep. Have you?”
“I thought so. Maybe we should try to find that poem about Santa.”
“We could look in the decorations, first. If it’s not there, you could pick up a copy while I have Truman tomorrow,” Johnny suggested.
“Good idea, Brother.”
“I know,” Johnny said, with a smirk.
Scott tried to cuff him on the head, but Johnny ducked.
When the boys finished their game, which Johnny won, they went to bed themselves, knowing that taking a seven year old Christmas shopping would require well-rested, clear-headed big brothers to keep everything in control.
During the night, Truman started having unfriendly dreams, featuring Baird Bailey, a monster tree that attacked horses, and an evil ax that chased the boy through the woods.
Truman jumped out of his bed, with Mr. Bear, and padded into Johnny’s room and climbed into bed with his big brother. Johnny felt the trembling boy scoot close to him and woke up, concerned.
“What’s wrong, True?”
“What was it about?”
“Mr. Bailey was there and a-a monster tree jumped on the horses and an ax chased me through the trees an Mr. Bailey was laughin’ an’ I got lost,” the frightened boy replied with a sniffle.
Johnny reached over and raised the wick, then looked back at his little brother. He used the sheet to dry his brother’s face and gave the boy a gentle kiss on his head. Then, he climbed out of bed, put his robe on and picked up his little brother. Johnny carried True back into his room and sat in the rocking chair, placing the boy in his lap and cuddling him as he rocked and talked to the boy to reassure him that Bailey was in jail and trees don’t jump on horses and axes don’t chase little boys through the woods. Pretty soon, True was sound asleep again, so Johnny put him back in bed and tucked him in, making sure Mr. Bear was close.
Johnny smiled at his little brother and went back to bed, happy he could help him go back to sleep. Murdoch and Sam had told the older Lancer sons that it was better for Truman to be put back into his own bed if he got out of bed after a nightmare or bad dream and went to one of his big brothers or Papa for comfort. It was perfectly fine to comfort and reassure the child as long as he was put back in his own bed, otherwise he might start to be afraid to sleep in his bed and get into a bad habit of sleeping with his older brothers or Papa. So, Johnny went back to bed and everything was fine for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Johnny told Scott of Truman’s visit to his room and that he was able to reassure Truman and rock his brother back to sleep.
“Is he still asleep?” Scott asked.
“Nope, I’m right here. Ready to go shopping?” Truman asked as he stepped out of his room, neatly dressed and groomed, with a smile on his face.
“Good morning. Let’s get some breakfast first, big boy,” Scott said.
“Good morning, Scott and Johnny. Yeah, I’m hungry. Come on.”
So the Lancer boys went down for breakfast and talked about their plans. When they finished, they hitched up the surrey and rode to Green River for The First Annual Lancer sons shopping day.
The Lancer boys took the surrey into Green River and left it and the team at the livery. They strolled down the boardwalk and entered the Davis Mercantile. Willie was sweeping the floor and his father was filling another customer’s order. Truman edged closer to Johnny and took his hand when Willie looked up and scowled at the little boy. Johnny looked down at Truman and took notice of where his brother was looking and looked that way himself. When Willie noticed Johnny watching him, he looked down and continued his chore. Truman looked up at Johnny, who smiled back at the little guy and gently squeezed his hand.
“It’s nothing’ to worry about, True. You’re safe with us,” Johnny assured the boy.
Truman smiled and said, “I know.”
“Let’s do some shopping, guys,” Scott said. He had witnessed the entire scene and wanted to divert True’s attention.
Johnny took the list out of his pocket and leaned down to show it to Truman. They began looking around and gathering the items on the list. Truman had brought his money pouch and counted out his money to pay for the items with guidance from Scott and Johnny. The only things they could not find were something for Murdoch and the angel figurines. Truman was disappointed, but Johnny told him that since he had to go to Morro Coyo to give a statement to the sheriff, they could see if Senor Baldemero had any angels in his store. Truman agreed and they decided to have lunch at the café.
The Lancer sons walked into the café and were immediately greeted by Claire and Bob, the waitress and the cook.
“Hey, Claire! Hi, Bob!” Truman returned the greeting.
“Hey there, Angel. Come have a seat. You been keeping your brothers busy?”
The Lancer brothers took their seats at the table.
“Yes, ma’am. They’re behaving, too!” True replied with a snicker.
Johnny reached over and tickled Truman. “We ALWAYS behave, don’t we?” Johnny asked rhetorically.
“WHICH we, Johnny? If ya mean Scott an’ me, then, yeah, WE do always behave!” Truman exclaimed.
Johnny gave his the boya mock growl as Scott laughed and Claire shook her head at them.
“What would you boys like for lunch? It’s a good day for tortilla soup,” Claire suggested.
“Since when do you have tortilla soup on the menu, Claire?” Johnny asked.
“Since I asked Mamacita Maria for the recipe,” she answered, squeezing Johnny’s shoulder affectionately.
“Oh, Muy bien! I’ll have that, then,” Johnny decided.
“Can I have some?” Truman asked.
“Why don’t you try some of mine and if you like it, you may have some. Deal?” Johnny suggested.
“Okay. That sounds good,” Truman agreed.
“Would you like to have some coffee and hot cocoa to start? What would you like, Scott?” Claire asked.
“A corned beef sandwich, please. Coffee for us and hot cocoa for True would be great, thanks,” Scott replied.
“Great, I’ll be right back.”
“Who’s left on your list?” Scott asked.
“You guys, Papa, and the people who are getting the….(whispers) angels,” Truman replied.
“Okay,” whispered Johnny.
“Well, do you want me to take you shopping for Johnny after lunch? Then we can switch off,” Scott suggested.
“No, I wanna go shopping for you with Johnny here and shop for Johnny in Morro Coyo,” Truman replied.
“Okay. That sounds fine,” Scott said.
“Good,” True affirmed.
The drinks arrived and they doctored their hot beverages to suit their taste buds. Soon after, Johnny’s soup and Scott’s sandwich arrived. Johnny gave Truman a taste of his soup, which the boy liked, but found a bit too spicy for the his taste buds. After having some hot cocoa, True tried a bite of Scott’s sandwich.
“I like the meat, but not that stringy stuff,” Truman said.
“It’s sauerkraut, True,” Scott informed him.
“Yeah, it sure is sour!”
Johnny snickered and Scott smiled and shook his head.
“Would you like a sandwich with just bread and meat, Truman?” Claire offered.
The boy looked to Scott and Johnny for approval.
“That’s fine, True, if that’s what you want. Will you eat it?” Scott asked.
“I dunno if I can eat a whole sandwich, Scott.”
“I’ll fix half a sandwich. How’s that?” Claire compromised.
“Yes, please. Thank you,” Truman agreed.
“You’re welcome, angel,” Claire responded.
Claire left to fix the promised sandwich. Scott patted True on his back.
“You handled that well, Truman. You have very nice manners, big boy,” Scott praised him.
Truman smiled shyly at his older sibling. Johnny reached over and squeezed the boy’s shoulder affectionately. He didn’t say anything because he had a mouthful of soup.
Truman ate the sandwich, but wanted more when he finished.
“May I have another half, please? That was good!”
Scott looked at his sandwich, of which he had finished half himself along with the fried potatoes that accompanied an adult sandwich plate. He still had half a sandwich left, but he was full.
“What if I take the sauerkraut off of my leftover half?” Scott suggested.
“It’ll have that sour taste on the meat.”
“Just try a little bit,” Scott said as he took the sauerkraut off the other half of the sandwich and then cut a small portion for his brother to taste.
Scott placed the small portion on his brother’s plate and looked at Truman expectantly.
Truman sighed and picked up the sandwich and took a small bite. He tasted the sauerkraut on the meat and made a face. Instead of spitting it out, he finished chewing and swallowed, but had a sip of hot cocoa to mask the bad taste.
“Don’t like it,” the boy replied petulantly.
“Why not?” Scott asked.
“I can taste the ‘kraut.”
“Well I can’t. Why don’t you just eat the rest of this and not make Claire fix another sandwich? It’s getting mighty busy in here,” Scott said.
“Claire doesn’t make the sandwiches, Bob does. And I don’t wanna eat your left over food…..(whispers) I don’t ever wanna eat after someone else again.”
Throughout the exchange between his brothers, Johnny remained quiet, wanting to see how the scene played out. In the past, Truman might have made a bigger fuss, but the boy was growing up and was doing a good job of keeping himself in check in this very public place. Now, though, he felt he needed to speak up on his little brother’s behalf.
“Scott, why don’t you see if we got a telegram from Murdoch? I’ll stay here with True if he wants another sandwich,” Johnny suggested.
Scott looked at both his brothers for a minute.
“Come outside with me for a minute, Johnny. Johnny will be right back, True. Stay here.”
The older Lancer brothers stepped onto the boardwalk.
“Did you hear that last bit True said?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, but I don’t want him to think it’s okay to throw food away.”
“He doesn’t. He probably thought you were going to eat the whole sandwich. Just let him have another half of what he wants. He deserves it. He tried your sandwich without a lot of fuss and he didn’t spit it out. I think he should get to make some decisions on his own. It’s not like sauerkraut is an important vegetable or anything,” Johnny argued on his brother’s behalf.
“Okay. Go ahead and let him have some more, then. I’ll see you guys in about an hour. I’m going to get the mail and check the telegraph office, then I’ll drop in on Sam or Val, or both. Will an hour be long enough for you to take him shopping?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we meet ya at the livery at 2? And do you have True’s money?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, here. I’ll meet you at the livery at 2. Don’t let True spend all his money in one place,” Scott warned.
Johnny chuckled and nodded, then returned to the table. Scott went on his errands.
Truman bowed his head when Johnny returned.
“What’s wrong, True?”
“Is Scott mad at me?”
“No. He’s not. Do you want some more corned beef on bread?” Johnny asked.
“No, I’m not hungry anymore.”
Johnny sighed. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Can we go shopping for Scott? Did he give you my money?”
“Yeah. Come on, get your coat on and I’ll pay for lunch, then we can go, ok?”
Truman stood and put his coat and hat on, then stood near the door, waiting for Johnny. When Johnny finished paying, he sauntered over to the boy and took him by the hand, then led the way outside.
Truman’s mood had turned blue after the sauerkraut debate with Scott and Johnny was worried that the boy was upset. He led Truman into an alley and lifted the boy onto a crate so they could talk eyeball to eyeball.
“True, I don’t want you to be upset over a sandwich, okay? It’s not that important. Scott isn’t mad at you for not wanting his sandwich. He just didn’t want the rest and didn’t want to waste it if you wanted some more. Don’t let this get you down, lil cowboy. It’s nothing to get upset over, okay?”
“Scott’s not mad?”
“No, True, Scott’s not mad. How about a smile? Will you give me one of your best smiles?”
Truman looked at his brother and saw the honesty and love in the depths of Johnny’s sapphire blue eyes. True nodded and gave him his most winning smile, then reached out and hugged Johnny. Johnny returned the embrace and picked up the boy. After a few moments, Johnny put the boy down and they continued their shopping mission.
Truman picked out a new pewter shaving cup for Scott and had his initials engraved on one side and the Lancer L on the other.
“I think you did a good job pickin’ out Scott’s present, lil cowboy,” Johnny said.
“What should I get for Papa?”
“Let’s look around,” Johnny suggested.
The two Lancer boys looked around the mercantile, but Truman didn’t see anything he wanted to buy for Murdoch.
“Maybe I can find something for Papa in Morro Coyo.”
“Okay. You can’t find anything here?”
“No. Papa already has some of this stuff and I wanna get him something special.”
“Okay. Let’s go find Scott, then.”
They left the mercantile and walked toward the post office and telegraph office, which were next door to each other. They checked in and discovered that Scott had picked up the mail about thirty minutes ago. They went to Sam’s office and residence, but he wasn’t home.
“Uncle Sam is on rounds, True. Let’s go see if Scott is tormentin’ Val.”
So they walked to the Sheriff’s office and found Scott sitting in a chair, flipping through wanted posters with his feet propped on Val‘s desk, but Val wasn’t there.
“Hey, you plan on becoming Sheriff of Green River, Brother?” Johnny asked.
“Huh? Oh, hi,” Scott said when he looked up and saw his siblings.
He smiled at the pair, so alike in appearance and mannerisms. Even though Johnny had a darker complexion, the flush in his cheeks from walking in the cold air was as apparent as the flush in Truman’s fairer skin. Truman had a small square package, wrapped in cheerful red paper and tied with string, in one hand while his other small hand was enveloped in Johnny‘s hand.
“Where’s Val?” Johnny asked.
“Went to get lunch. I told him I’d watch Ivan while he was gone,” Scott replied.
“Ivan is in here again?” Johnny asked incredulously.
“Oh. Well, True wants to shop for Murdoch in Morro Coyo,” Johnny informed Scott.
“Well, it’s nice to know that you followed my advice and didn’t let the kid spend all his money in one place,” Scott commented.
Johnny chuckled and cuffed Scott on the back of his head gently.
Just then, Val came in, balancing two trays while trying to close the door as the wind blustered through after the disgruntled and haggard sheriff. Johnny walked over and closed the door firmly, then took a tray from Val and set it on the desk.
“Thanks, Johnny. It seems Scott here has forgotten his manners or gotten lazy, or both,” Val grumped.
“Oh, I’m just doing your job the way you’d be doing it if you were in the chair,” quipped Scott.
Val set the other tray down and smacked Scott’s feet off his desk.
Scott took the hint and smirked. Rising, he winked at Truman.
“Aren’t you going to say ‘Hello’ to Johnny and Truman?”
Val turned around and said ‘Hello.’
“Hey, Val. Who’s Ivan?” Truman asked.
“He’s a man who drank a little too much last night and..um…made a bad choice.”
“Oh. He got drunk and acted stupid, then?” Truman asked.
“Yeah. What are you guys doing in town, now? You trying to get away from work since your Old Man is gone?” Val asked.
“Papa’s NOT old!” Truman exclaimed, defending Murdoch.
“It’s just a phrase, True. You’re right, Papa is not old,” Scott said, placating the boy.
“Truman is Christmas shopping. We’re finished in Green River, but we’re going to Morro Coyo to drop off Truman’s outgrown suit and shoes at the Mission and to finish his shopping. Johnny needs to go anyway, to give a statement to Sam Jayson, who has Baird Bailey in his jail,” Scott explained.
“Oh. Why is Bailey in Sam’s jail?” Val asked.
“Because he was traipsing’ on our land yesterday, cut down one of our trees, and nearly killed True and the team of horses. So, when Scott took the tree that Bailey cut down to the Mission for the party, he also took Bailey to jail,” Johnny answered.
“Oh. Okay. Was there any gunplay?” Val asked.
“No,” Johnny answered succinctly.
“So, what time is Christmas dinner?” Val asked.
“2pm, Sharp,” Scott answered.
“Take a bath an’ shave, will ya? And dress in your best,” Johnny advised.
“Yeah, yeah. You don’t smell like you been sittin’ in a bed of roses!”
“Roses have thorns, Val. I wouldn’t put my tail in that kind of trouble,” Johnny said, grinning.
“”Oh, like you don’t get your tail in trouble other ways?” Val asked.
Johnny chuckled and slapped Val in the stomach with the back of his hand.
“We better get going, Johnny. We have afternoon chores to do. Tomorrow, we have things to do in the morning before we’re back to get Teresa and Murdoch,” Scott suggested.
“You guys are gonna be back in town tomorrow?” Val asked, incredulously.
“Just to get Murdoch and Teresa, Val. Don’t worry, we’ll be good,” Johnny said.
“Uh huh. Well, if I don’t see ya before then, I’ll see ya at 2 on Christmas.”
“Okay, Val. See ya.”
The Lancer boys left the sheriff’s office and went back to the livery. Scott had stowed the packages they had acquired before lunch on the surrey when he left his brothers at the café. He had also remembered to bring Truman’s outgrown suit and shoes. The boys hitched the team and headed towards Morro Coyo.
When they reached the small town, Johnny directed the team to the livery and the three Lancer boys unhitched the team and stowed the surrey. Scott picked up the suit and shoes and handed them to True and three of them walked to the Mission. They were greeted by Padre Ortiz, who invited them to his office.
“Hello, there! To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?” the kind priest asked.
“I got too big to wear this suit, shirt, an’ shoes and I wanna give it to one of the boys here to wear,” Truman said.
“That’s very kind of you, Truman. May I see the suit, please?”
“Sure. Here,” Truman said as he handed the suit to the priest.
Father Ortiz held the suit and pants up, checked the size, then looked at the size of the shirt. He inspected the shoes and looked for their size, as well.
“This clothing is in remarkably good shape, young man. I’m sure I can find a youngster to wear this. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Father Ortiz. Did you get the tree yesterday?”
“Yes, I did. Thank you. The children are very excited about the party.”
“Me, too,” Truman replied.
“We need to go, Truman. We’ll be here for the party on the 22nd, Father Ortiz,” Scott said.
“We’re looking forward to it. Have a wonderful day, boys,” Father said.
“Thank you. You, too,” replied Scott.
The boys left and Johnny went to the sheriff’s office while Scott took Truman shopping for Johnny, Murdoch, and to find the angel figurines.
When Johnny entered the office, he heard a ruckus from the back, where the cells were. Sam was not in the front office and the door leading to the cells was ajar. When Johnny went back to see what was going on, he found Bailey with his arm through the bar and around Sam’s neck, choking him. Sam had his back against the bars and was struggling to escape. There was a tray overturned and food had been spilled on the floor.
Johnny drew his gun and ordered Bailey to release the sheriff.
“Let ‘im go, Bailey,” Johnny said in his low Madrid growl.
“Why should I? He keeps bringin’ that Mexican garbage they call food and expects me to eat it. I want real meat and potatoes, not beans and totallos,” Bailey replied.
Johnny shifted his weight and adopted a posture of nonchalance, grinning malevolently at the irate man behind bars.
“You mean tortillas. Release the sheriff or I’ll make sure you never need to digest food ever again. You’ll spend the rest of your life bein’ fed through a tube in yer nose, and it ain’t fun,” Johnny promised.
“You wouldn’t shoot me. You don’t want that little boy to think any less of his hero,” Bailey taunted.
“Truman knows who I am and he’s not here. It’s just the three of us and I would shoot you. Let go of the sheriff before you find out how serious I am. This is your last chance,” Johnny warned.
Bailey grinned at Johnny, taunting him, and tightened his grip around the sheriff’s neck. Sam started choking and looked at Johnny with pleading and panic stricken eyes.
Johnny took careful aim and shot Bailey in the upper arm, causing him to yelp and release the sheriff immediately. Holding his wound, Bailey glared at Johnny.
“I’ll get you back for all the trouble you’ve caused me and my boys,” Bailey threatened.
“Ya know, it’s pretty stupid to threaten someone in front of the sheriff, Bailey,” Johnny said.
He walked over to Sam, who was now standing against the wall, sagging actually, and holding his neck, and took him by the arm, leading the sheriff back to the front office and depositing him in a chair. Johnny holstered his gun, then fixed a glass of water for Sam and handed it to the gasping man.
“Drink this, you’ll feel better. I’ll check on Bailey and fetch the vet.”
“Thanks, Johnny. I’m sure glad ya showed up when ya did,” Sam said hoarsely.
“Yeah, I betcha do,” Johnny chuckled. He went back to the cells and stood staring at Bailey. The man looked pitiful, sitting on the bunk, holding his arm, and rocking back and forth.
“I’ll go get a doc. Ya might wanna clean up yer mess there. I don’t think you’re gonna get anymore ta eat today,” Johnny advised.
“Go ta Hell, Madrid!” Bailey yelled at him.
Johnny smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “You first. And the name is ‘Lancer.’”
Johnny left the cells and closed the door. After checking on Sam, he went to find the veterinarian and brought him back to the sheriff’s office. The vet took a quick look at Sam and verified that the man would be fine, then went to work on Bailey, under the supervision and protection of Johnny and his Colt.
Bailey roared in outrage when he saw the vet come to take care of his arm, but he was warned that if he didn’t accept the doctor’s help, he wouldn’t receive any help.
When the doctor was finished, Johnny locked Bailey in the cell, escorted the doctor out and thanked him. Then, he wrote out his statement and signed it, with the doctor as his witness, and left to find Scott and Truman.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas
Johnny found Scott and Truman. They were sitting on a bench outside Baldemaro’s store. Truman was finishing a peppermint stick.
While Johnny had been helping Sam, Truman had been choosing the angel figurines that he wanted to give as gifts. After he had placed the angels on the counter, True had browsed through the rack of embroidered shirts similar to the ones Johnny preferred and chose a bright azure shirt with black thread embroidery.
“Is this the right size, Scott?”
“Let me see, True.”
Scott walked over and looked at the tag to check the size of the shirt Truman had picked out for Johnny.
“It’s a medium, Truman. I think that’s the right size. Let me ask Senor Baldemaro.”
“Okay. I’ll hang on to the shirt.”
“Good idea. That’s a nice color.”
“Sure, little buddy,” Scott answered. He turned toward Senor Baldemaro and asked, “What size shirt does Johnny usually buy?”
“Medium, Senor Lancer,” Baldemaro replied.
“Thanks. True, you have the right size there. Put it on the counter with the angels and we’ll find something for Papa,” Scott instructed the boy.
“But I’ve been through this store over an’ over and I can’t find anything for Papa!” Truman exclaimed, distressed.
“You haven’t seen anything you want to give to Papa?”
“No. Nothin’. Nada,” the boy replied, mimicking Johnny.
“Well, you’re a great artist, why don’t you draw a picture for him?” Scott suggested.
“Hey! Yeah, I could do that, except…”
“Except what?” Scott asked.
“Except I don’t have any more paper, it won’t be in color, an’ would he really want a drawing instead of a shirt or something like that?” Truman asked.
“True, I have some extra paper from my trip to San Francisco. I was saving it for you and Johnny, remember?”
“Pencil drawings are just as nice as color drawings and I bet he would love to have a homemade present from you. He can buy shirts and pipes any old time he wants, but to have a drawing from his boy is something special. It’s priceless,” Scott replied, trying to boost the boy’s confidence.
“Okay, a drawing it is, then.”
“Do you know what you’re going to draw?”
True thought for a couple of minutes, then his face lit up with one of his best smiles.
“I know just the thing, Scott. It’s gonna be a surprise.”
“Okay. Let’s pay for the angels and shirt before Johnny finds us,” Scott said.
Truman walked over to the counter and told Senor Baldemaro that he was ready to pay for his things.
“Five dollars, Senor Truman,” the kind man said.
“Okay,” Truman replied. He dug the money from his pouch and set it on the counter.
Truman looked at the coins, then turned to Scott and asked, “Are those the right coins, Scott?”
Scott checked the coins and nodded.
“Sure, True,” Scott replied, patting the boy on his back affectionately.
Senor Baldemaro took the coins, then wrapped the angels and Johnny’s shirt individually in bright green paper. Next, he took a peppermint stick from a jar and offered it to Truman.
Truman looked to Scott for approval and was pleasantly surprised when Scott nodded, so he took the candy but did not eat it right away.
“I thought you were mad at me about the sandwich,” True said, with his head bowed.
Scott lifted the boy onto the counter and raised his chin with two fingers.
“I’m not mad about the sandwich. Don’t let it bother you anymore, understand?”
“You’re welcome. Thank Senor Baldemaro for the candy,” Scott instructed gently.
Truman nodded at Scott then thanked the kind store owner for the treat.
“De nada, chico.”
Scott lifted Truman and set him on the floor, then picked up the gifts and carried them to the door. Truman followed and they both turned to bid Senor Baldemaro good-bye.
“Good-bye, Senor Baldemaro. Thank you for your help,” Scott said.
“Adios, Senor Lancer. De nada.”
“Adios, Senor Baldemaro. Muchas Gracias for the help and candy,” Truman said.
“Adios, chico. De nada. Come see me again.”
The Lancer boys went outside and sat on a bench to wait for their brother.
Johnny arrived as Truman was finishing his peppermint stick. His face and right hand were red and sticky.
“Hey, True. How much of that actually made it into your belly?” Johnny asked, laughing.
“All of it,” True replied.
“Are ya sure? There’s quite a bit on your cheeks and hand,” Johnny said as he wet a bandana in the water pump and washed the boy’s face and hands.
“I ate it all.”
“Okay, lil cowboy. Are we ready to go home? What did you get for Papa?”
“I couldn’t find anything for him, so I’m going to draw a picture for him,” Truman replied.
“Oh, he’ll love that!” Johnny assured the boy.
Scott gave Johnny a grateful look. Johnny didn’t understand, but Scott mouthed the word ‘later’ and Johnny nodded, figuring Scott would explain when they could be alone.
The Lancers went to the livery, hitched the surrey, and drove home.
When they arrived at the estancia, Jelly and Cip came over to take the surrey and team for them. Johnny nodded his thanks and hopped off the surrey, landing lightly on his feet. He turned around and held his arms up for Truman. The boy jumped into Johnny’s arms and hugged him. Johnny returned the hug, patted the boy’s back, then set him on his feet. Scott had the packages and the three Lancers walked into the estancia, where it was much warmer.
Truman took the shirt for Johnny and checked the tag to make sure he had put “To Johnny from True” on it. When he was satisfied that all the gifts had tags on them, he placed them under the tree.
“Could I have the paper now, please?”
“Sure, stay here and I’ll go get it.”
“Okay, but I need my pencils, too.”
“Are they in your drawing basket in your room?” Scott asked.
“I’ll get them for you.”
“You’re welcome, little buddy.”
Scott went upstairs to find the sketch book and True’s pencils. Johnny followed and filled Scott in on what happened at the sheriff’s office. Scott was alarmed, but not really surprised at Bailey’s actions. He was happy that Johnny wasn’t forced to kill the man because he knew what it would do to Johnny’s soul.
“I don’t want True to know about this until it’s necessary. I want him to have a carefree Christmas, Scott.”
“I understand, Johnny. We’ll give him a wonderful Christmas. Did you get the Chess set for him?”
“Yep, I did. It’s wrapped and tagged, and under the tree.”
“Great. Well, here’s the paper, let’s get his pencils, then we can help him find a place to draw while we do some ranch work. “
“He has chores, too.”
“Yes, and he’ll do them. He needs the daylight to do his picture, though. We have to move the herd tomorrow morning, so he’ll be too busy to do it then. After lunch, we’ll go get Murdoch and Teresa,” Scott stated.
Johnny nodded his agreement and the two of them went downstairs to find Truman. The boy was standing next to the tree, gazing at it.
“Hey, True. Here’s your paper and pencils. Where are you going to draw?”
“I’m going to draw under the tree outside.”
“Okay. Don’t forget to do your chores,” Scott said as he handed the materials to the boy.
“Thanks, Scott and Johnny. I won’t forget my chores.”
“You’re welcome, True. We’ve got some things to do. I’ll let Jelly know where you are. We’ll see ya at supper,” Johnny replied.
“Okay. See ya later, then.”
Truman took his supplies outside and made himself comfortable, then he started sketching. About an hour later, Jelly came to check on him.
“Hey, young’un. You about finished there? Your boys want their supper.”
“Just a few details to do, Jelly.”
Truman finished his picture and closed the sketchbook. He gathered his pencils and other supplies and carried them into the house and placed them on the coffee table. He returned to the barn to feed Trevor and Mickey and to give both of his animals some exercise before putting them to bed.
Truman finished his other chores before returning to the estancia. He went to the bath house and washed for supper, then entered the kitchen to see if Maria needed any help.
“Hola, nino. Donde este su hermanos?”
“Not sure. They said they would be back in time for supper, though. Do you need any help?”
“Si, chico. Set the table. The dishes are there,” Maria instructed the boy.
Truman set the table with the plates, napkins, flatware and cups. Scott and Johnny entered just as True was putting the last fork in place.
“Hey, True! How are you? Did you finish your chores?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, Johnny. The boys have been exercised, fed, and put to bed and there’s fresh milk and eggs, an’ I brought some wood in for Maria,” True answered.
“Good job, big boy!” Scott praised.
“He set the table for us, too, chicos,” Maria said.
“Well, maybe he’ll get a special treat after supper. Did you finish your picture for Papa?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, but I need to wrap it. I’ll show it to ya after supper. Have ya washed, yet? I’m hungry!”
Johnny and Scott chuckled at the boy.
“We’ll go wash now. We’re hungry, too, lil cowboy,” Johnny promised.
“Well, go on then!” Truman urged, trying to push and herd his brothers toward the door.
Scott and Johnny laughed as they made their way to the bath house to clean up. They were back in less than ten minutes. The boys and Maria sat down, said grace, and ate their evening meal together. When they had finished, they helped Maria with the dishes and she rewarded them with churros, warm cinnamon sticks.
They boys entered the living room and Truman shared his pictures with Scott and Johnny, impressing them with his eye for details. Scott left momentarily to find two flat boards and some string. He returned with the materials and helped Truman wrap his present to Murdoch. Truman printed a special message to Murdoch very carefully, and Scott secured the tag to the gift.
“Who wants to play chess?” Johnny asked.
“I will,” Truman answered.
“Okay. You gonna watch, Scott?”
So Johnny and Truman played a game of chess while Scott watched and gave Truman hints. When the clock signaled that it was 8:30, the Lancer boys trooped upstairs and the youngest was put to bed lovingly.
The next morning was foggy and cold. The Lancers grudgingly climbed out of their warm beds and prepared for the day. They convened in the kitchen for breakfast where the aromas of hot cocoa, bacon, eggs, and coffee helped perk them up. After a filling breakfast, the boys went to the stable, saddled their mounts, and led them to the corral, where their reins were secured to the railings. Johnny gave instructions to work crew while Scott gave instructions to the other crew, which would be helping them and Cipriano move the herd to another winter pasture. Truman had followed Scott to listen to the instructions as well.
The Lancer boys mounted up and waited for the crew and Cipriano to do the same. Then, they went to the East Mesa and moved the herd to the southeast pasture. The job wasn’t easy in the fog and some of the beeves kept getting lost, lowing and crying for help when they wandered away from the herd. Johnny and Scott worked hard, going after strays again and again. Truman had been instructed to stay with Cipriano and the main herd, and he was following his work orders as efficiently as a veteran Lancer cowhand.
The herd was finally settled in its new pasture shortly after noon. The crew was relieved to see Jelly driving the wagon out to deliver their lunches. The Lancers ate with the crew, then had to leave the herd in order to make it to town in time to meet Murdoch and Teresa’s stage. Johnny left Cipriano in charge and asked Jelly to go check on the other crew after lunch.
The boys rode into town and washed up at Val’s place. Truman was very excited about seeing Murdoch and Teresa and chattered non-stop as they walked their horses to the hitching post in front of the hotel, which was next door to the stage coach depot. Scott went to rent a wagon and team of horses for Murdoch and Teresa to use. They would have brought a Lancer wagon, but they did not have time to go back to the estancia to retrieve one.
Scott drove the wagon to the hotel and parked it next to the horses. He hopped down and joined Johnny and Truman, who were standing inside the depot doors.
“Hey, everything under control?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. I have a wagon and team waiting for them. What time is it?”
“Ten ta three.” Johnny answered.
“Good,” Scott replied.
Scott and Johnny watched Truman, who was pacing back and forth, anxious to see his Papa and sister again. He’d had a great time with his brothers, but he missed Murdoch and Teresa and was ready for life to return to normal.
Johnny moved into the boy’s path, blocking his progress. Truman looked up at Johnny with a questioning look.
“Settle down, True. Papa and Teresa will be here soon. Were Scott and I bad parents?” Johnny asked, mostly joking.
“No! You were great, honest to goodness! I just want Papa and Teresa home in time for the party and holiday concert and Christmas Eve an’ Christmas,” the boy replied honestly.
“Okay, lil cowboy,” Johnny replied with a grin and he affectionately squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
“Are you upset with Johnny for spanking you?” Scott asked, curious if the boy held a grudge.
“Oh, no! I deserved it. I made a big mistake and I hadda be a big boy and take respons’bility for it,” True answered.
“You’re a good boy, True,” Johnny said, as he laid a hand on the side of the boy’s head and gently pulled him closer to his side.
“Thanks, Johnny. I try my best to be good,” True replied.
“I know ya do, kiddo.”
Just then, the sound of a team of horses approaching was heard. The older Lancers loped outside to meet the stage while Truman dashed to the edge of the boardwalk. The boy was trembling and squirming with unbridled energy and anticipation. He was bouncing on his toes and craning his neck to catch a glimpse of Murdoch while his fingers were flexing and tapping his legs wildly. Johnny reached out and grabbed the boy by the arm, pulling him back from the edge to keep him safe from the approaching horses.
The stage stopped at last and the shotgun rider jumped down to receive packages and luggage from the driver who was emptying the cargo space. The door was opened and Scott reached in to give Teresa a hand out of the stage. As soon as her feet were firmly planted on the ground, Truman was in her arms, hugging her for all he was worth.
“Teresa! I missed you! Did you have fun? Did you get the toys for the kids at the Mission? Did you bring Papa home?” Truman asked.
“Hello, Truman! I missed you, too! Yes, yes, and, most importantly, yes, I brought Papa home,” she replied, laughing at the boy’s exuberant greeting.
Johnny and Scott joined in the laughter and Murdoch was laughing as well. He was in the process of disembarking the stage when he had to stop and laugh at the child’s questions.
Johnny reached over and gave Murdoch a helping hand. Once Murdoch was completely out of the stage, he gave Johnny an affectionate pat on his side, then moved to Scott and gave him a pat on his shoulder. Suddenly, Truman realized Murdoch was out of the stage and threw himself at his Papa. Murdoch caught the boy in his arms and lifted him, hugging the boy close and patting his back. True rested his head on Murdoch’s shoulder and hugged him tightly, not wanting to let go.
“Hey, big boy! I missed you. We’ll have to take a trip up to Sacramento some time. Were you a good boy? How have you been? Were Johnny and Scott good boys?” Murdoch asked.
The boy leaned back in Murdoch’s arms to see his face and smiled.
“I’m fine. I made a mistake one time and Johnny spanked me, but I’ve been pretty good. Scott and Johnny were very good and took me Christmas shopping and I didn’t hafta eat the sauerkraut,” Truman said, relaying all the news he thought was important.
“I see. We’ll discuss the mistake later. You boys look like you’re each in good health and one piece. Is the house still standing?” Murdoch asked with a grin.
“Oh, yes. Maria did all the cookin’,” Truman replied, quite seriously.
Murdoch, Teresa, and the older Lancer boys laughed at this honest answer. Murdoch hugged his youngest boy again, then set him on his feet. He took the boy by the hand
While Murdoch and Truman had been talking, Scott and Johnny had loaded the wagon with the boxes of gifts and the luggage.
“We moved the herd today and didn’t have time to return to the estancia to get a wagon, so I rented this. I’ll bring it back tomorrow,” Scott said as he led the way to the wagon.
“That’s fine, Scott. So you boys got the herd moved to the southeast pasture? Any problems? Did Truman help?”
“Yep, we got them moved in the fog. Those stupid beeves kept wandering off an getting lost. If they just stayed with the herd, we woulda had them settled before lunch. True did a great job helpin’ us and followed his instructions like a pro,” Johnny replied.
“We all know cows aren’t smart, Johnny. I’m very pleased that chore was accomplished. Thank you, boys. And good for you, too, young man for helping them,” Murdoch praised his sons.
“Thank you, Papa.”
“True has dress rehearsal Saturday at 9:45 at the Green River Concert Hall,” Scott informed Murdoch.
“I ain’t wearin’ a dress!” Truman protested.
“No, you’re not, True. It just means you have to be dressed in your suit and practice the concert,” Scott explained.
“The concert is at 7 Saturday evening. He has to wear his suit and a red tie. We gave his outgrown suit and shoes to Father Ortiz at the Mission so one of his children can wear it. They are still in great shape,” Scott continued.
“Okay. That was a nice thing to do. So he has a new suit and shoes? Does he have a red tie?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, but I don’t think he has a red tie,” Scott replied.
“Let’s get that really quick, while we’re in town. Do you boys mind staying with the wagon while I take Truman into the store?” Murdoch asked.
“Not at all, Murdoch,” Scott replied.
“Thank you. We’ll be right back. Come on, Truman, let’s get your tie,” Murdoch said as he gently guided the boy to the store.
“Murdoch, wait for me!” Teresa called.
“No, Teresa. Wait with Scott and Johnny. We’ll be right back,” Murdoch instructed the young lady.
Teresa sighed in exasperation.
“Oh, querida! Ya don’t need ta go shoppin’ with them! Murdoch can pick out a tie for True,” Johnny gently chastised Teresa.
“I know he can. He had a wonderful time buying all sorts of things for that boy,” Teresa replied with a smile.
“Did he buy anything for us?” Johnny asked with a big grin.
“Coal and switches!” Teresa teased.
“Hey! We’ve been good, haven’t we. Scott?”
“We’ve been VERY good, according to our seven year old brother,” confirmed Scott.
“Yeah!” Johnny added.
Teresa smirked at them.
Within ten minutes Murdoch and Truman had returned. Murdoch had a tie in a bag and he put it in his valise.
“We have it. Are we ready to go home?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes! Let’s go! I’m anxious to see the tree and we need to sort and wrap the presents for the orphans and I need to gather materials for the party, and…”
“Whoa! Slow down, Teresa! We have plenty of time. The party doesn’t start until 4:30 tomorrow afternoon,” Murdoch said.
“I know, but I feel swamped already. We still have to get the decorations for our tree from the attic, pop popcorn, string it, and decorate our tree,” Teresa continued.
“We already brought the decorations for the tree down from the attic and we can pop and string popcorn tonight,” Scott said.
“You already brought the tree decorations down?” Teresa asked, surprised.
“Yes, but we need to get going. The tree’s not gonna get decorated and the other things aren’t gonna get done if we stand here in the street talkin’ about what we hafta do!” Johnny said.
“Johnny’s right, darling. We need to go.”
So the Lancer boys mounted up after helping Murdoch and Teresa onto the wagon, and they headed for home. When they arrived, they received a warm welcome from Jelly, Cip, Maria, and the hands.
As soon as the packages and luggage were unloaded and Jelly had taken care of the wagon and horses, Murdoch settled down in the living room with his family surrounding him.
“Well, now, tell me about your four days together,” the patriarch instructed. He was holding Truman in his lap. As soon as they had entered the estancia, Murdoch had sought comfort in his favorite armchair and the boy had immediately climbed into his Papa’s lap.
“Most everything went according to plan. We completed our assignments every day and nobody was injured or sick. When we purchased Truman’s suit, Bailey was fussing about True taking too long to count his money to buy a treat and knocked into him on purpose. Johnny persuaded Bailey to apologize to Truman and he did, then left,” Scott began his report.
Murdoch raised his eyebrows at Johnny when Scott had mentioned that he had ‘persuaded’ Bailey to apologize, but did not comment. Johnny grinned confidently.
“Yes, sir. We finished restocking and cleaning the east line shack. True was carrying a small box of supplies inside when he tripped and tore his pants. He swore in Spanish and Johnny spanked him.”
“Is that the mistake you made, son?” Murdoch asked the boy, who had his head bowed now.
“Yes, Papa. Johnny had given me two swats in August and told me not to do that anymore and I didn’t until that day.”
“I see. Go on, Scott.”
“Okay. When we went to find the tree, Truman was very good and listened to us. Right after our tree came down, another tree came down within five feet of hitting the wagon, the horses, and Truman. Bailey had trespassed and cut one of our trees, then laughed like a fool when the horses took off.”
“Where was Truman?” Teresa asked.
“I was standing by the horses, but I stepped back when the tree fell and they ran off,” True answered.
“That was a smart thing to do, son. Good thinking,” Murdoch praised the boy with a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.
“I took Bailey and the tree to Morro Coyo, delivered the tree to the Mission, then took Bailey to jail,” Scott finished.
“Is he still in jail?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, and he’s gonna be there for quite a while,” Johnny replied.
“Oh?” Murdoch asked.
“We took True shoppin’ yesterday and I went to make a statement about the tree fracas to Sam. When I went in the office, Sam was in the back, bein’ choked by Bailey, who hasn’t acquired a taste for tortillas and beans. I had to…um…wound him so he would let go of Sam. I found the vet and he took care of Bailey, though Bailey wasn’t thrilled about it,” Johnny replied.
“That’s pretty much all the excitement we had, Murdoch,” Scott said.
“I don’t like sauerkraut, Papa.” True said.
“No. It’s icky.”
“I see. Where did you have a taste of it?”
“On Scott’s sandwich. I like the corned beef n’ bread, but not the ‘kraut.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Now. Scott and Johnny, do you have chores to do?”
“Yes, I have some things I need to take care of outside. Don’t you, Johnny?” Scott asked.
“Um..yeah, sure. I’ll help Scott.”
“Thank you, boys. I must say you did a wonderful job of looking after True and I will be very confident to leave him in your care again if the need arises,” Murdoch praised his older sons.
“Thanks, Murdoch. We had a good time with him,” Scott said.
“I had a good time with Scott and Johnny, too,” Truman said.
“I am very glad you boys enjoyed your time together. Now, I would like to talk to Truman privately, so you go on and do what needs to be done and I will see you at supper, alright?”
“Sure Murdoch. Okay. See ya later, True,” Johnny and Scott replied and bid their farewells.
Once the older boys were outside and Teresa had retreated to the kitchen, Murdoch put the boy on the floor and lifted his chin so they could talk eyeball to eyeball.
“Now, young man. What did we talk about last summer?”
”No swearing in English or Spanish, Papa.”
“Right. But you’ve been caught twice, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Papa. Johnny caught me in the barn when Mickey stepped on my toe. Johnny spanked me twice and gave me a warning. At the line shack, he spanked me twice, then took me behind the shed and spanked me ten more times.”
“I see. Do you think that was fair?”
“Yes, Papa. I think Johnny cried a little, too.”
“He might have. He didn’t want to spank you, but he knew he had to teach you a lesson about swearing, right?”
“He said that he loves me too much not to teach me good manners.”
“That’s right. What will happen if you get caught again?”
“I get double from you and my mouth washed out with soap,” the boy answered solemnly.
“That’s right. That’s not going to happen, though, is it? You’re going to mind your manners, right?”
“Good boy. I love you. Come here.” Murdoch pulled the boy into his lap and hugged him close.
“I love you, too, Papa.”
“I know you do. You’re a wonderful boy, True, and we are so happy you are a part of this family.”
They stayed in the chair like that for a few minutes, then Murdoch put the child on his feet again.
“Now listen. Tonight we are going to decorate the tree and I am going to let you stay up past your bedtime. However, you will have to put on your night shirt after supper so I can put you right to bed after we finish with the tree. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Papa! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. Go outside and do your chores. Oh, and one more thing.”
Murdoch turned the boy to face away from him and gave him two firm swats on his backside. Truman gasped and rubbed his bottom, then looked at Murdoch.
“That’s my warning to you about swearing, understand?”
“Yes, Papa! I understand,” Truman said rather emphatically.
“Okay, go on, son.”
Truman nodded and ran to the foyer and put his coat on before going out to feed his animals. Scott saw the boy walking to the barn and rubbing his bottom at the same time.
“True? What happened?” Scott asked as he approached. The boy wasn’t crying and his eyes were dry, so he thought the boy might have just slipped somewhere.
“Papa gave me a warning about swearing.”
“Did you get a couple of swats?”
“Are you okay?”
“Stings a bit, but I’ll be okay.”
Scott just chuckled and hugged the little guy close.
“You’re tough, True. Let’s get these animals fed and then wash up for supper.”
While his sons were doing their chores, Murdoch went through the mail. He came upon an envelope addressed “To the Parent of Truman S. Lancer” and opened it. Inside was Truman’s fall term school report. He had earned three A’s and two B’s plus checks in Citizenship, Study Habits, Attitude, and Punctuality. He had earned a Satisfactory in Penmanship as well. There was a kind note of encouragement to Truman from Miss May and a letter to Murdoch stating why the boy received the B’s in Math and Science, as well as a formal invitation to the Green River Grammar School Winter Program.
Also in the mail was a telegram from the Barkleys inviting the Lancers to visit their ranch in Stockton after Christmas. Since the Lancers had visited after the cattle drive back in August and Murdoch and Teresa had just returned from Sacramento, Murdoch decided to talk to his family about inviting the Barkleys to visit Lancer instead.
The door opened and there was a general ruckus as three boys came in from completing their chores. They were laughing and chasing each other in the foyer. Giggling and squealing was heard from the youngest as the older Lancer sons tickled and wrestled with the boy. Murdoch watched and chuckled at his sons’ antics. When Truman fell on the floor laughing, Murdoch became concerned because the boy wasn’t making any noise. Murdoch thought his son was choking. He leaped from his chair and made it to his fallen son’s side in less than three strides.
“Truman? Are you okay?” Murdoch asked as he knelt beside the shaking child.
The boy nodded and caught his breath, laughing out loud, thus dispelling any concerns Murdoch had for his safety.
“Lord, son! Don’t do that! You scared me!”
“I-I-I’m s-s-sorry, P-Papa!” Truman apologized between hiccupped breaths.
Murdoch reached down and pulled his youngest to a standing position and held him steady until he had calmed down.
“What’s so funny?” Murdoch asked.
“Johnny, Scott, an’ me…”
“And I,” corrected Murdoch.
“Right. Johnny, Scott, and I were chasing Dew Drop and Jelly got in a big tizzy cause we told him we needed feathers for a new pillow and that Dew Drop was gonna be our guest of honor at Christmas dinner,” Truman replied, still giggling.
Murdoch smirked and shook his head, grinning at his boys.
“You boys know better than to tease Jelly about that goose,” Murdoch admonished mildly.
“Yes, but it was so irresistible, Murdoch,” Scott said, chuckling.
Johnny nodded, still wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes.
“Did you finish your chores?” Murdoch asked.
The two young men and boy nodded.
“Well, go get cleaned up for supper, then. We have some things to discuss,” Murdoch advised.
“Okay, Papa. I’m so glad you’re home. I missed you,” Truman confessed.
“I missed you, too, Truman Oliver. Go on, boys.”
So the Lancer boys went to the bath house and washed for supper. Teresa came in and started setting the table, then Maria brought in more dishes and helped. Once the table had been set, the food was brought out and set on the table. The boys came in and took their customary seats. The blessing was said and food was passed around.
“Well, boys, it appears that everything is in order and the ranch ran smoothly while in your care. Thank you very much for doing such a great job with not only Truman, but with the ranch as well,” Murdoch started.
“Thank you, Murdoch. Thank you, sir,” Johnny and Scott replied.
“Thank you, Papa,” Truman said, not to be left out.
“You’re welcome. I found two letters of importance in the mail. One is a telegram and the other is Truman’s fall term school report. I’d like to share both of them with you. The telegram is from the Barkleys and they have invited us to visit after Christmas. I think that since Teresa and I have just returned from a trip and we visited them in August, that we will invite them to spend a few days with us here at Lancer. What do you think?”
“I’d prefer they come here. I’m tired of traveling,” Teresa said.
“Yes, let’s have them here. We have plenty of room,” Scott said.
“Does Nick hafta come?” Truman asked.
“Yes, Truman. We need to be nice to Nick, too,” Murdoch gently admonished his youngest boy.
“He’s a grouch,” Truman muttered.
Johnny and Scott chuckled, but Murdoch was serious.
“Truman, Nick has a big responsibility running that ranch and when things don’t go the way he plans, it could cost the ranch lots of money. He isn’t a grouch, he’s just very concerned about the ranch. So, you need to behave yourself and mind your manners,” Murdoch instructed his boy.
“Good. Now, I am pleased to share your report. Do you mind if I share it with the family?” Murdoch asked.
“What does it say?”
“Here, take a look and see if you want to show it to your brothers and Teresa,” Murdoch said as he gave the report to the boy.
Truman read the report, but he wasn’t sure what it meant because he had never received a school report before.
“Are A’s and B’s good?” Truman asked.
“Very good, Truman,” Scott replied.
“What about these other marks. What are they?” Truman asked.
“They are check marks, which means you are doing well in those areas of school,” Murdoch explained.
“What is this S for?” True asked.
“It means satisfactory.”
“What does that mean?” the boy asked.
“It means you are doing fine in handwriting, but you can still improve, get better,” Murdoch explained.
“Oh, okay. I have A’s in Reading, Writing, and History. B’s in Science and Math,” Truman said.
“That’s very good, Truman,” Scott said.
“Yes. What are the checks in?” Scott asked.
“Citizenship, Study Habits, Attitude, and Punctuality,” Truman answered.
“That’s very good, Truman. Citizenship means you mind your manners and you are respectful. Study habits mean that you work hard in your school work, attitude means that you try your best and you are a good sport if you don’t get your way, and punctuality means you are on time and do not miss a lot of school,” Teresa explained.
“Oh. I missed school after Thanksgiving,” Truman reminded her.
“Yes, but you haven’t missed a lot during the fall term, True. You only missed five days after Thanksgiving,” she said.
“Yeah. Miss May wrote a note to me.”
“Do you want to share?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure. She says that I have improved in my handwriting and can start cursive writing in January and she loves having me in her class. She says to keep practicing counting money and to ask my brothers about the phases of the moon. She says she loves my inqui…inquis..I don’t know that word,” Truman said.
The boy handed the report back to Murdoch and watched him expectantly.
“It’s inquisitive, son. Miss May loves your inquisitive nature,” Murdoch explained.
“What does that mean?” True asked.
The others chuckled. Truman was confused.
“It means you like to ask a lot of questions and Miss May likes that about you. She likes curious students who want to learn,” Scott explained.
“Oh. So it’s a good thing?” True asked.
“Yes, son. Finish your supper so we can start decorating the tree.”
“Yes, Papa. Papa? Did you get a note from Miss May, too?”
“Yes, I did. It just said to keep helping you count coins and you had a rough time with the planets and phases of the moon on the last science test you took.”
“Yeah, that was hard. I studied, but when I started reading the questions, I got all confused.”
“its okay, Son. You did the best you could and I am very proud of you. This is an excellent school report, especially since it’s the first time you’ve ever been to school.”
“Okay. I’m finished. Can I…,” Truman started.
“May I,” Scott corrected gently.
“May I go get ready for bed so I can help decorate the tree?” Truman asked.
“Yes, Truman. You may be excused,” Murdoch said gently.
“Thanks. I’ll be back in two shakes of a cow’s tail,” the boy said as he hopped off his chair and ran up the steps.
The others laughed at the phrase and continued to eat.
“Boy, he sure is something!” Johnny stated.
“Yes, he is. That school report is very impressive,” Scott agreed.
“Yes, it is. I am very proud of him,” Murdoch said.
“I hope he gets along with Nick when they visit, if they get ta come,” Johnny said, changing the subject. Since Johnny didn’t have the chance to go to school regularly, he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.
“Well, I hope Nick will have the opportunity to relax while they’re here. Scott, when you return that wagon tomorrow, please send a telegram to the Barkleys. I’ll write out a message and give it to you in the morning.”
“Let’s get these dishes cleared and I’ll find the corn for popping and then you boys can start stringing it,” Teresa suggested.
“Okay, Teresa,” Scott said.
They cleared the table and found the popcorn popper. Murdoch started popping the corn as Teresa went to find needles and thread. Truman came down the stairs with his bear and sat next to Murdoch on the hearth. The boy was wearing his flannel nightshirt with long johns, slippers, and his robe. Murdoch smiled at his boy and helped him hold the popcorn popper. Teresa returned with needles and thread as the corn began to pop.
“Johnny, could you go get some bowls for us to put the popcorn in? I’ll thread the needles and have them ready for you boys to string the popcorn,” Teresa said.
Johnny nodded, then went to the kitchen for the bowls. He returned with three large bowls and set them on the coffee table. As soon as the first batch had popped, Murdoch took the popper from Truman and poured the popcorn into a bowl, then refilled the popper with kernels from the jar. Johnny picked up Truman and sat on the sofa, placing the boy on his lap. Scott picked up the bowl of popcorn and sat on the sofa, placing the bowl between him and his brothers. Teresa handed threaded needles to each of the older Lancer sons and they began stringing popcorn, with Truman watching and learning. After a few minutes, Johnny handed the started string to Truman and started a new string for himself. Murdoch, with a huge, content smile, watched his boys stringing popcorn together, as they occasionally munched on it as well. After a second bowl was filled with popcorn, Murdoch put the popper down and started unpacking a box of decorations.
After about a half hour, the popcorn had either been strung or consumed, so the Lancers were ready to put the strings on the tree. They worked together and managed to put all three strings on the tree without getting themselves tangled up. The real decorating began when ornaments were picked up gently and placed lovingly on the branches. Johnny and Scott had a wonderful time helping True decide which branches were best for certain ornaments. As soon as all of the ornaments had been placed on the tree and the candles had been attached strategically, it was time for the angel to be placed on top. Johnny looked at Truman, who was gazing in wonder at the decorated tree. He picked up the little boy and held him high as Scott handed the angel to Truman. Murdoch and Teresa coached the child in the art of placing the angel on the top of the tree.
“Well? What do you think, Truman?” Teresa asked.
“Yeah, it is, lil cowboy. Ya did a good job helping us. Didja have fun?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah. It was very special. I wish…I wish Mum and Dad could have helped, too,” the boy said sorrowfully, as he wiped tears from his eyes.
Murdoch took the boy from Johnny and held him close.
“Truman, remember what we talked about at your birthday?” he asked.
“That Mum and Dad are sharing these times with me?”
“Right. They are in Heaven, but they are in your heart, too, remember?”
“Yes, Papa. I remember.”
“Good. Now, it’s ten o’clock. You need a good night’s rest so you’ll have fun at the Mission party tomorrow. So, say your good nights and I’ll take you up to bed,” Murdoch instructed gently.
Truman nodded and went to Teresa when Murdoch put him down. He gave his sister a big hug and told her good night, then he hugged both Scott and Johnny. Johnny picked True up and held him close for a few minutes. Scott picked up Mr. Bear and handed the toy to Truman.
“You’re welcome, little buddy. You did a super job when Papa and Teresa were on their trip and Johnny and I are looking forward when we boys can do that again,” Scott said.
“Thanks, Scott. I had fun with you guys an I promise no more swearing,” Truman said.
“Good boy. Well, Papa is anxious to put you to bed, now. I bet he missed doing that when he was in Sacramento. So, good night and sweet dreams. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay. Good night, Scott and Johnny.”
“Good night, True.”
“Good night, lil cowboy.”
Johnny handed Truman to Murdoch and the two of them went upstairs. Murdoch tucked his boy into bed lovingly, listened to his prayers, then kissed his youngest son good night and left the room quietly after lighting the lamp and lowering the wick to a soft glow.
The next morning the Lancers convened at the kitchen table for breakfast and ate heartily. Johnny and Truman were given instructions to check on the herd and the watering holes in the southeast pasture to be sure there was plenty of water for the cattle and that no beasts had broken through any part of the fence.
Scott’s assignment was to return the wagon, send a reply to the Barkleys and wait for a response. The boys finished their breakfast simultaneously and left to prepare for the day.
Johnny and Truman saddled their horses and led them from the stable as Scott drove the rented team and wagon from the barn. Remmie was not tied to the back of the wagon, and Truman noticed this.
“Um, Scott?” he called.
“Yes, True?” Scott replied as he stopped the team.
“Um, are you taking that wagon and the horses back ta town?” Truman asked.
“Are ya leaving them in town?”
“Yes, True. They belong to the livery stable.”
“Well, are you gonna walk home, Scott?”
Johnny started snickering. He knew what Truman was trying to tell Scott, but he allowed the conversation to continue because he wanted Scott to be outsmarted by a seven year old.
Scott stared at the boy, then looked at the team, bewildered. He turned in his seat and looked at the back of the wagon. Johnny was having a hard time holding his laughter. Scott scowled at Johnny, put the break on and went to saddle Remmie. He brought the horse out and tied the reins to the back gate of the wagon, then walked over to Truman and knelt in front of the boy.
“You just saved me from a very long walk, lots of blisters, and very sore feet. Thanks, little buddy,” Scott said.
“Oh, you’re welcome, Scott. That’s what brothers are for, to keep each other on their toes,” True replied with a knowing grin.
“Well, I appreciate you doing your job so well. In fact, you do it better than Johnny, here.”
“Hey! I woulda told ya, maybe.” Johnny said petulantly.
“Uh huh,” replied Scott.
Truman grinned at the two of them and shook his head. He led Mickey to stand alongside a hay bale, then he stood on it and used it to mount his horse independently.
“He’s very resourceful,” Scott pointed out to Johnny as they watched the youngest Lancer solve his height problem.
“Yep, he sure is. We need ta go. See ya later, Scott.”
“See ya later, Johnny. Bye, True! Keep an eye on Johnny!” Scott called.
“I will. Bye, Scott.” True responded.
The Lancer boys took off for their assignments. Johnny and Truman headed for the southeast pasture as Scott drove to Green River. Scott delivered the wagon and team to the livery stable, untied Remmie and rode him to the telegraph station. There, he sent the message, then ambled to the general store as he waited for the required reply.
Johnny and Truman rode to the pasture, stopping along the way to repair fences and clear water holes of debris. They rounded up some strays, moved them back to the herd, and fixed the section of fence the stupid animals had knocked over.
They were clearing the last watering hole in the pasture before lunch when Johnny slipped on the muddy bank as he was pulling the last big branch out of the water. He managed to toss the branch onto the grass, but his boot slipped and he fell backwards into the chilly water.
“Are you okay?” Truman called downstream.
Truman had an armful of smaller branches he was able to pull from the bank without getting into the water. He had gathered them up and was going to toss them into a copse of trees when he heard the splash and saw Johnny land in the water.
“Yes, just wet. You didn’t get wet, did you, lil cowboy?” Johnny replied as he made his way out of the water and onto the bank. Johnny shivered as he walked over to Barranca.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Good. We better get back to the house. I need dry clothes and it’s close to lunch. Papa will want you to have a rest before the party.”
Truman dropped his load of branches in the trees and brushed the dirt from his coat. He walked over to Mickey and waited patiently for Johnny to lead Barranca over to them. Johnny lifted the boy so he could get his foot in the stirrup and pull himself the rest of the way into the saddle.
Once Johnny was on Barranca, they headed home. When they arrived, Murdoch came out to greet them and supported Truman’s dismount from Mickey. He took one look at Johnny and shook his head.
“What happened, Son? Did Truman push you in?” Murdoch asked, chuckling.
“No, I slipped,” Johnny replied curtly through chattering teeth.
“I’m sorry, John. Go on to the bath house and get out of those wet clothes. I’ll find some dry ones for you and you can take a hot bath before lunch.”
“Thanks, Murdoch,” Johnny replied with chattering teeth and a small grin.
Johnny went straight to the bath house to follow through on Murdoch’s advice. Jose had taken the reins of both horses and put them in the corral after unsaddling them.
Murdoch smiled at the boy standing by his side.
“How did you manage to stay dry?”
“I didn’t get too close to the mud. Johnny had to go in and get a big branch out so the water would flow and I pulled smaller branches out from the bank. Johnny slipped in the mud and fell back into the water when he threw the big branch onto the bank. Earlier, we had to chase some stray cows back into the pasture and fix the fence and we pulled sticks and rocks from some of the other water holes,” Truman reported to Murdoch.
“I see. Well, thank you for that information. You’re getting to be a real fine cowboy, son.”
“Thanks, Papa. I think Johnny might need his clothes soon.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Thanks for reminding me. I want you to nap after lunch so you don’t get overtired at the party this afternoon.”
“Johnny said you would want me to rest. I’ll wash for lunch.”
“Good boy. I’ll see you at lunch.”
They parted company and carried out their intentions. Johnny joined them for lunch, clean and dry. They were just about to say the blessing when Scott arrived with the telegram from the Barkleys.
“Hey, just in time for lunch, Boston,” Johnny said cheerfully.
Scott looked at his brother. Johnny had a different set of clothes on and his hair was wet but neatly brushed.
“Gee, I didn’t know we had to bathe for lunch now, too,” Scott quipped.
“You don’t, Son. Johnny had an unfortunate run in with a muddy bank. What do the Barkleys say?” Murdoch asked.
“Oh, they will be delighted to come on the 27th and spend New Year’s Eve with us. All of them will be coming, so you need to be nice to Nick, Truman,” Scott said.
“I will if he’s nice an’ not grouchy,” Truman muttered.
Johnny chuckled, but stopped abruptly when he received a stern paternal glare from Murdoch.
“You’ll be nice to Nick whether he is a grouch or not,” Murdoch admonished. “What’s the rule, Son?”
“If you don’t have somethin’ nice to say, don’t say anythin’. Does that mean I don’t hafta talk ta Nick?”
“Just be courteous. You don’t have to entertain him the whole time, just be polite, okay?”
“Thank you, Truman.”
The family ate their lunch, then the youngest was sent to his room for a nap so he would not become overtired at the party and have a meltdown. Truman was known, on the ranch only, for having meltdowns when he was overtired, so it was prudent of the family to insist that the boy try to nap every day. It wasn’t always feasible, but they tried to make sure that the youngest did rest when it was possible.
Johnny and Scott excused themselves to see to their mounts and Murdoch went to his desk to double check the to-do list for the party. Teresa and Maria had cleared the table and were baking goodies for the party. They had recruited some of the other ranch wives and had the meal planned and the food was being prepared. The sewing group would provide the materials for the children to make their decorations for the tree. The box of gifts had been loaded into the wagon and popping corn and other supplies were being rounded up and packed by Jelly, Walt, and Frank.
Two hours later, Murdoch entered Truman’s room and sat on the edge of the bed. His boy was sound asleep on his stomach, facing the dresser and holding Mr. Bear tightly in the crook of his left arm. Murdoch smiled at the angelic face of his slumbering child. He appeared to be much younger than seven when he was asleep. Johnny also had the trait of appearing younger than his 22 years when he was sleeping. His two younger boys had so much in common that it was uncanny. Technically, the boys were second cousins, but Johnny and Truman were so much alike and so close that it made sense for them to be treated as brothers.
Murdoch reached out and rubbed the boy’s head and back to gently rouse him from slumber.
After a few minutes, Truman sighed and opened his eyes. He rolled onto his side and looked at Murdoch.
“Hey, Papa,” he greeted Murdoch with a sleepy smile.
“Hello there, Son. Have a good nap?”
“Mm hmm. What time is it? How long did I sleep?”
“It’s about two-forty and you slept for about two hours.”
“Oh,” Truman replied with a yawn.
“Are you still sleepy?”
“No. I usually yawn when I wake up.”
“I see. Are you ready to get up and change for the party?”
“Do I hafta wear my suit?”
“No, just dress nicely. I noticed you took off your pants and slept in your shirt.”
“Yes. I didn’t want ta get dust in my bed.”
Murdoch chuckled and rubbed the boy’s head lovingly.
“That was a good idea. Come on, up you get. Let’s find a nice outfit for the party,” Murdoch urged his youngest.
Truman climbed out of bed and slid to the floor. He opened his wardrobe door and pulled out a pair of black calzoneros that Johnny had bought for him for his birthday. They had little concho buttons along the sides just like Johnny’s. He also pulled a blue embroidered shirt and his caballero jacket that matched the pants. Truman laid his clothes out on the bed and looked at Murdoch for approval, with his head tilted to the side. Another Johnny mannerism showing itself in Truman. Murdoch smiled.
“Try them on and let’s see how they look,” Murdoch suggested.
The boy beamed. He took his shirt off without unbuttoning the rest of the buttons and tossed it into the laundry basket. He was standing in just his drawers and socks, getting ready to start dressing, when Teresa came in without knocking.
“AHHHHHHHHHH! Teresa!” Truman yelled as he scrambled to hide behind Murdoch.
“I’m sorry, Truman. Here’s some clean clothes. See ya later.”
Teresa dropped the pile of clean clothes on the bed and left quickly.
“Papa, you’ve got ta talk to her about that! Johnny, Scott, and I are big boys and we don’t like bein seen by girls in our drawers,” Truman stated emphatically.
Murdoch chuckled. “I’m sorry, son. I’ll remind her to knock, ok?”
“You’re welcome. Put some clean drawers and socks on, too.”
The boy stripped completely and tossed his dirty socks and drawers into the laundry basket. He picked up a clean pair of drawers and pulled them on, then pair of black socks were put on. Next, the shirt was donned and the buttons fastened. Finally, Truman pulled on the fancy pants and thread his new belt through the loops.
“Why are you so modest when Teresa is around but not with me or Scott and Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“Cause I’m getting to be a big boy and Teresa doesn’t need to see me nekkid. It would be okay if I was little and still in nappies, but I’m not. Johnny, Scott, and you are boys and we’re all alike, though I’m smaller, so it’s okay if you guys see me nekkid,” Truman replied.
“Well, that’s a very logical answer, son.”
“Is it the right answer?”
“There is no right or wrong answer to that question because it’s about how you feel.”
“Oh…How do I look?” Truman asked.
The boy had pulled his boots on and shrugged into the caballero jacket as he and Murdoch were talking.
Murdoch helped Truman straighten his collar and smooth the shirt in front, then stood back and looked carefully.
“Mighty handsome, young man. You need to brush that hair of yours, though.”
“Thanks, Papa. I want to look nice for the party. Will the kids make fun of me if I wear this?”
“I don’t think so. If they do, then that’s not being polite, is it?”
Truman brushed his hair and was given the nod of approval from Murdoch. After they worked together to make Truman’s bed and put his clean clothes away, they joined the others in the family room. Truman received a lot of compliments from his brothers and sister and a sneaky wink from Johnny. True returned the wink then suddenly found himself enveloped in Maria’s crushing embrace.
“Oh, what a handsome chico! You look muy bueno, Truman!” Maria gushed.
“Gracias, Mamacita. Por favor, I can’t breathe.”
Murdoch and the others laughed as Maria released Truman from her fierce hug.
Truman smiled shyly as he smoothed his clothes and hair. He looked up and noticed Johnny was attired similarly to his own outfit. Scott and Murdoch were dressed in clean pants, shirts, blazers, and ties. Teresa was wearing a red plaid dress with green ribbon trimming.
“What are ya staring at? Let’s go!” Truman urged his family.
The others smiled and made their way to the foyer where they donned their hats, gloves, scarves, and winter coats.
Once the family, including Maria, was settled in the surrey and a few hands were in the wagon with Jelly and Cipriano, the little caravan headed to the Morro Coyo Mission Orphanage for a joyous Christmas party.
The caravan was greeted warmly by Father Ortiz and the children. The sewing group members arrived shortly after and led the children into the classroom to begin making their tree ornaments as Teresa, Maria, and the other ranch wives invaded the kitchen to finish preparing the evening meal.
Truman “supervised” the unloading of the gifts, which were hidden in the Father’s office and would be distributed by “Santa Crawford” after dinner and games. Once Truman had joined the children in the classrooms, Johnny went to Green River to deliver the Santa suit to Val.
“I can’t believe I let ya talk me into this, Johnny,” the sheriff groused as he examined the suit.
“Come on, Val. It’s for the orphans. If ya won’t do it outta the goodness of yer heart, do it for the kids. Do it for Truman,” Johnny urged, knowing he was playing with fire.
“Oh, that’s really low, Johnny. You know I love that boy like a nephew! You know I’d do almost anything for him. Giving me a guilt trip is not ingratiatin’ yerself, ya know!” Val grumped.
Johnny grinned. “Ingratiating? Have you been hanging out with Scott lately? You sure have learned some fancy new words!” Johnny teased.
“Oh, hush up and give me that suit!” Val fussed.
Johnny laughed and pulled the suit out of the bag. He had brought the suit in earlier in the week and hid it at Sam’s place.
Val put the suit on, but he was too skinny and the suit hung off the sheriff’s slim frame. Johnny grabbed a couple of pillows and stuffed them into Val’s gut, then helped the sheriff fasten the suit coat.
“That’s better. Put the beard on. You have to be fat n’ jolly, not skinny an’ grouchy,” Johnny reminded him.
“Okay, okay, okay!”
Once Val had the suit situated and he was dressed appropriately, Johnny pulled him outside and helped “Santa” onto the wagon. He drove back to Morro Coyo and was able to sneak Val into the kitchen.
The children were finishing making their decorations and were anxious to hang them on the tree. The ladies of the sewing circle supervised the cleaning of the classroom, then led the children to the big dining hall where the tree had been placed.
One at a time, the children, including Truman, hung their decorations on the tree. The older children had also strung popcorn and draped their strings around the branches. Next, the candles were clipped onto the ends of branches and lit as the sun set.
Soon, the ranchers’ wives began setting the tables and the children were ushered outside to play while dinner was put on the table. When the tables were ready, the Mission bell was rung and the children filed into the dining room in an orderly manner.
Tomas had become fast friends with Truman and the two boys played together. Truman noticed that Tomas was wearing his old, outgrown suit and shoes. Tomas was bit smaller than he was and the clothes fit him well. True was happy that Tomas was the one who had inherited his suit and shoes, but he didn’t say anything to his new friend because he didn’t want him to be embarrassed. Tomas showed True what to do when the bell rang. They stood at the table as all the other children did, waiting for the blessing to be said before they could sit and dig in.
There were all kinds of foods laid out on the table. It was an international feast of sorts, with traditional Mexican, American, Scottish, and Irish dishes.
After dinner, the children gathered to sing carols, with Scott as the pianist. The adults sat and watched the children.
Suddenly, the doors slammed open and Val “Santa Claus” Crawford came ho-ho-ho-ing into the dining room with a sack of toys on his back. He sat in a high backed chair after putting the sack on the floor and opened it. As he pulled toys from the sack one at a time, he read the label and called the child’s name. Each child went up to receive their gift and a pat on the head from “Santa.” Truman was quite surprised when his own name was called. He looked to Murdoch in confusion.
“It’s okay, son, go on and see Santa,” Murdoch encouraged.
Truman looked to his brothers for reassurance, and they both nodded at him. When the boy continued to hesitate, Johnny took True by the hand and led him to Santa. He let the boy go at his own pace and never rushed him or let go of True’s little hand.
“Santa, this is Truman. This is his first time meeting you, so he’s a little nervous,” Johnny said.
“Hello, Truman. Are you excited about Christmas? Have you been a good boy this year?”
“H-hello, Santa. Yes, I’m excited. I think I’ve been good. I’ve tried to be good.”
“He’s been very good, Santa,” Murdoch said. He was standing behind Johnny and Truman.
Truman looked around at Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny in wonder.
“I have been a good boy?”
“Yes, Truman, you have,” Scott replied.
“What about the swearing?”
“I said you’ve been very good. Nobody is perfect, Son.”
Santa handed the gift with Truman’s name on it to the boy.
“Th-thank you, Santa.”
“You’re welcome, Truman. You keep studying Science and counting coins, young man,” Santa advised the boy.
Truman’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“How did you know about that?”
“Ho-ho-ho! Santa knows a lot about each child he brings toys to.”
“Really? What’s my full name, then?” Truman asked, challenging “Santa.”
Johnny smirked at Truman’s challenge. He figured this would put “Santa” in a bind, but Val came through with flying colors much to Johnny’s surprise and Truman’s delight.
“Your full name is Truman Oliver Sutherland Lancer,” Santa replied.
Truman gasped in surprise, then smiled.
“Thank you for my gift, Santa, and thanks for coming to the party,” Truman said politely.
“You’re welcome, Truman. You have nice friends and you are a very generous young man to throw this party for the orphans,” Santa praised Truman.
True bowed his head shyly and smiled.
Johnny led Truman over to sit with Murdoch, who had reclaimed his seat at the adults’ table. Murdoch lifted his boy into his lap and held the child close.
After all of the children had received their gifts, they were allowed to open them. Each child had received a picture book and a toy. There were delighted squeals and gasps of surprise emitted from several children. William, the eldest orphan, had received a package of art supplies, and he was eager to put them to use. He walked over to a quiet corner and started sketching a picture of Truman sitting with Murdoch as he opened his gift. Truman had received a copy of the book, A Visit from St. Nick, and a little wooden covered wagon with a team of wooden horses to pull it. He was totally entranced by the toy and played with it immediately after reading the book.
The party was winding down and children were being scuttled off to the dormitory to get ready for bed. Truman himself had run out of steam and began rubbing his eyes sleepily. Scott noticed and caressed the child’s head gently.
“Are you tired, True?” Scott asked gently.
The boy nodded and yawned, resting his head against Murdoch’s shoulder. The tables had been cleared and the kitchen cleaned. The ladies had reconvened in the big dining hall and were escorting the younger children to their dormitory rooms. When all the younger children had been dressed for bed, they were allowed to come back and say their thank-you’s and good-nights to everyone who had helped with the party. Johnny, Scott, and Teresa accepted the accolades on Truman’s and Murdoch’s behalf since the Lancer patriarch had dressed the youngest Lancer in his coat and carried him to get the surrey prepared for departure.
Johnny left to help Murdoch and offered to sit with the sleeping child so Murdoch could say his good nights to the children and Father Ortiz and thank everyone who had helped make the party possible.
“Thank you, Johnny. I’ll be back soon with Teresa and Scott.”
“Sure, I’ll look after True.”
Murdoch nodded and patted Johnny’s arm affectionately, then headed back to the Mission. He said his good nights to Father Ortiz and the Sewing Circle ladies. He thanked them all for their help with the party. Then, Murdoch rounded up the rest of his family, thanked Val, and left. He wondered why Sam had not been at the party, but figured there could have been an emergency requiring his skills.
The Lancers gathered at the surrey and Murdoch climbed aboard as Scott helped Teresa up. Johnny and Scott climbed onto the back seat. Johnny picked up Truman and put the boy in his lap while Scott gathered Truman’s gifts from Santa and secured them for the ride home.
When they arrived at the estancia, they all disembarked and walked inside as Walt and Frank came out to look after the team and surrey. Murdoch thanked them, and followed his family inside. Johnny and Scott took Truman upstairs and undressed him, clothed him in a nightshirt, and tucked him in. Scott placed the child’s new toy and book on his dresser and turned down the wick, then he and Johnny left the room quietly.
“That was some party, Murdoch!” Johnny exclaimed.
“It turned out well, didn’t it? I was proud of how you boys pitched in and helped, “ Murdoch praised.
“De nada,” Johnny replied.
“Yes, he did. It’s a good thing he had a nap today. He’ll probably need one tomorrow between rehearsal and the program,” Scott said.
“That’s right. I think the children’s choir is singing at the morning service on Christmas Eve, too.”
“Oh, good. I can go hear True sing in the mornin’ with you all and then go to midnight Mass,” Johnny said.
“That will be nice, John. I’m sure Truman will appreciate you being there,” Murdoch stated.
Johnny smiled shyly.
“I’m tired. I think I’ll turn in,” Scott said.
“Yeah, me, too. Good night, Murdoch”
“Good night, Johnny and Scott. Thanks again for all your help.”
“Did Teresa go to bed already?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, while you and Scott were putting Truman to bed. She was exhausted,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh, well, we’ll see her in the morning,” Scott responded.
The Lancers went to bed and slept deeply from their exhaustion.
The next morning was bright and clear, but very cold and windy. The Lancers convened in the kitchen for breakfast, coffee, and hot cocoa.
Truman came downstairs already attired in his new suit, shoes, and red tie. Murdoch was going to take him to town for rehearsal and send a telegram to the Barkleys.
Johnny and Scott were instructed to check on the herd and the fence that surrounded the southeast pasture.
Once breakfast was over, the family members went their separate ways. Murdoch saddled Chief and helped his youngest boy saddle Mickey, then they rode to Green River together.
Johnny and Scott headed to the barn as well. On the way, Johnny stopped, grabbed Scott’s arm for support, and let loose a mighty sneeze.
“Are you all right, Johnny?”
“Yeah. I must have caught a cold from falling in the water hole,” he replied, sniffling.
“You do sound a bit stuffy there. Do you have a fever?” Scott asked as he reached to feel Johnny’s forehead.
Johnny swiped Scott’s hand away before it made contact with his head, though, and groused, “no fever, Boston. Just the sniffles. I’m fine.”
His next sneeze, however, startled the horses.
“You can stay home and rest, if you feel you need to. I can handle the fence line. True will be disappointed if you’re too sick to attend the program this evening,” Scott said.
“I’m fine, Scott. Let’s get going!”
The Lancer boys took off and were not seen again until lunch. Johnny didn’t sneeze any more during the morning, so Scott laid off.
After lunch, Murdoch insisted that Truman take a nap, stating that it would be best if he didn’t yawn while he sang his solo parts. Truman cocked his head to the side while they still sat at the table and gave some serious thought to what Murdoch had said. He readily agreed that he would be embarrassed if a yawn did occur, so the boy clambered up the steps, took off his shoes, dress shirt, and pants and laid the clothes on his chair neatly. Truman put his nightshirt on and climbed into bed. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Teresa stopped by the boy’s room and peeked in to check on him. True was still sound asleep, lying on his right side, facing the door and dresser. Teresa smiled at the slumbering child, then left without a sound.
When Teresa entered the great room, Murdoch looked up.
“Hello, Murdoch. Truman is sound asleep. I’ll get him up around 3:45 so we can get him refreshed and fed before the program.”
“Good idea. I’ve booked rooms for us at the hotel. We can stay there tonight, go to church in the morning, then come home without going back and forth. Would you mind helping True pack a small bag?”
“What a great idea! I’ll help him. Don’t forget to tell the boys about the hotel plans,” Teresa reminded her guardian.
“Don’t forget to tell us what?” Scott asked as the Lancer sons came in.
“Pack a small bag. We’re going to stay at the hotel in town tonight after the Christmas program, then we’ll be in town for morning services. Afterwards, we can come home and enjoy the day together,” Murdoch said.
“That’s a great idea, Murdoch!” Johnny exclaimed.
“Thank you, Johnny,” Murdoch replied with a smile.
“Where’s the lil cowboy?” Johnny asked.
“In bed, asleep.”
“Oh. Well, all the beeves are where they’re supposed ta be and the fences are in good shape,” Johnny informed Murdoch.
“Great. Thanks, boys.”
Johnny sneezed and sniffled, then blew his nose with his bandana.
“John? Are you alright?” Murdoch asked with paternal concern.
“It’s just the sniffles, Murdoch. I’m fine.”
Murdoch looked at Scott, who shrugged, but Johnny didn’t miss the look.
“I’m f-fine. Ahh-chooo!”
“Uh huh,” Murdoch replied cynically.
Murdoch walked over and felt Johnny’s forehead. Johnny tried to pull away, but Murdoch grasped his arm to keep him still.
“No fever. Just keep a handkerchief with you and get some rest. Why don’t you go ahead and pack a bag, then you can lie down and rest awhile,” Murdoch suggested.
Johnny sighed. He knew his father was trying to show concern without being overbearing.
“That’s a good idea, but I think I’ll take a bath first,” Johnny replied.
“Okay,” Murdoch agreed.
Johnny nodded and went to get clean clothes. He popped his head into Truman’s room and smiled at the sleeping boy. Being careful not to wake the child, Johnny found a clean pair of drawers and his robe and slippers and went to the bath house.
“Is he alright, Scott?” Murdoch asked as soon as Johnny was out of earshot.
“He’s fine, just the sniffles. He sneezed a bit this morning, but he didn’t have a fever then, either. We’ll just keep an eye on him.”
“Okay. He may have caught a cold from falling into the water hole yesterday,” Murdoch stated.
“Yes. I think I’ll go ahead and pack my bag, then I’ll take a bath after Johnny.”
“Okay, Scott. I need to get Truman up in an hour and have him take a bath, too.”
Scott nodded and went upstairs to pack his bag, checked on Truman, then went to the bath house to wait his turn.
Once Johnny finished in the tub, he stood and let the water run off his muscular contours in rivulets. He then dried himself and started drying his hair. There was a knock at the door, and Johnny called to wait a minute. He slipped into his robe and secured it before giving the okay to enter. Scott came in and took in Johnny’s appearance.
“You okay, Johnny?”
“Fine. I feel better, now. That steam really helped my breathin’.”
“Good. Did you drain the tub?”
“Not yet, but there’s plenty of hot water on the stove.”
“I’ll take care of it. You get dressed and dried before those sniffles get worse.”
“Okay, Brother Boston,” Johnny replied sarcastically.
Scott grinned and gave Johnny a light smack on his cheek.
“That’s a good little brother!”
Johnny grimaced and poked Scott in the belly.
The boys started laughing and trying to out-do each other with the light taps and smacks.
Meanwhile, Murdoch went upstairs to pack his bag, Murdoch poked his head into the boy’s bedroom door and was relieved to see he was still asleep.
Johnny came up the stairs and down the hall and saw his father looking in on the youngest Lancer.
“Hey,” Johnny whispered.
“Shhh. He’s still asleep,” Murdoch said.
“Good. I’m gonna pack, then maybe rest in here for a little while. Get me up when you get True for his bath, ok?”
“How did you know I was going to get him up for a bath?”
“Scott mentioned it right before I came up here,” Johnny replied.
“Okay. Have a good rest.”
Murdoch nodded and patted Johnny’s arm lightly, then went to his room. Johnny dressed and settled on his bed, falling asleep quickly.
Scott finished his bath, cleaned up the bath house, then sat in the family room and read until everyone was ready to go.
Murdoch woke Truman at 3:45 that afternoon and instructed him to gather clean drawers, his robe, and slippers. While Truman was doing that, Murdoch went into Johnny’s room and gently shook the young man’s shoulder. Johnny had been reading and drifted off to sleep, not realizing he was that tired.
“John? Johnny? Time to get up, son,” Murdoch whispered.
“Hmph? Wha’ ?”
“Time to get up. We’re having an early supper. I’m taking Truman downstairs for his bath.”
“Okay, I’m up,” Johnny replied as he sat up and scrubbed his face with his hands. He caught the book just before it fell off the bed.
Johnny looked up at Murdoch and grinned. Murdoch returned the smile and patted his son’s shoulder.
“See you downstairs, then.”
Truman came in with his clothes and dumped them on Johnny’s bed, then stepped in front of Johnny and hugged him. Johnny returned the hug and smiled up at Murdoch. Murdoch chuckled and reached out to tap his youngest boy on his shoulder.
“That was very nice, Truman. We need to get going, though, okay?” Murdoch said.
“Yes, Papa. I’ll see ya later, Johnny.”
“Ok, lil cowboy. I’ll see ya at supper. Mind Papa, now,” Johnny replied.
“OKay. Let’s go, Papa.”
Murdoch waited for the boy to gather his clothes, took the child’s hand and they left Johnny to freshen up and dress.
When Truman’s bath was finished, he was escorted to his room by Murdoch and dressed in regular ranch clothes. He would change into his suit after they checked into the hotel.
The family convened in the dining room with Jelly, Cip, and Maria. Their meal consisted of a light vegetable beef soup and bread, filling yet not too heavy.
When dinner was finished, the Lancer family put their bags in the surrey. Johnny and Scott rode their horses so there would be room for Jelly, Maria and Cip in the surrey.
The Lancers and their guests arrived in Green River and immediately checked into the hotel. Teresa and Maria would share a room while Cip and Jelly shared a room. The Lancer men had a suite with two bedrooms, two beds per room. Johnny and True chose to share one room while Murdoch and Scott agreed to share the other.
Murdoch ushered his youngest into his room to change into his suit, then escorted him to Green River Hall, a meeting place with a stage, curtains, and a piano.
All of the other children were there already and they were instructed to line up by Mr. Peabody, the choir director and teacher to the older children of the community.
“Truman, listen and follow Mr. Peabody’s instructions, now. We’ll be back in time for the program,” Murdoch said.
“Okay. I’ll see ya later, Papa.”
“See you later, son.”
Murdoch returned to the hotel suite to see how the rest of his family were doing and make sure they were getting ready.
The program started promptly at seven.
The children started the program with “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” They sang beautifully. After a few traditional Christmas carols, Truman stepped forward for his solo. He sang “Ave Maria” like an angel. The townspeople in attendance were flabbergasted at the child’s natural talent and wide range of tones. The choir continued their program, which included some new material and an African carol. After a short intermission, the program continued with another solo from Truman. He sang “O Holy Night.” Toby and Mary had solos, too. They sang “Angels We have Heard on High” and “Today a Child is Born,” respectively. The program continued with “Joy to the World,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Little Drummer Boy.” Truman and his friends walked from the back of the hall to the stage, playing their drums and singing the song to “Baby Jesus,” who was actually baby Zachary, the seven month old son of a local rancher, held by Mary Lane.
The end of the program was upon them. Candles had been provided to the audience members and each choir member had a candle. Once the choir’s candles had been lit, the lights in the hall were dimmed. Truman stood at the front of the hall, but not on the stage, with his lit candle. As he sang “Silent Night,” the other choir members walked to the ends of the rows of seats and lit the candle of the audience member as they whispered “God be with you.” The person in the aisle seat then turned to the person sitting next to him or her and lit that person’s candle, repeating the phrase, and so on until all the candles had been lit. Mr. Peabody motioned to the audience to stand and everyone sang the last stanza of the song.
After the last refrain had faded, the lights were brought up and candles were extinguished carefully. The children went backstage to prepare for curtain call and the audience applauded thunderously for the soloists.
Mr. Peabody thanked the audience for attending and extended utmost gratitude to the children’s parents for their cooperation and support. The children were released to their parents and family and the atmosphere was akin to joyfully controlled chaos.
The Lancer family was very proud of the youngest Lancer and praised him for his singing. Truman blushed and smiled shyly, but he appreciated the accolades.
A stranger approached the Lancers as they gathered their coats from the hooks at the back of the hall. As Johnny was helping an exhausted True into his coat, the man spoke to Murdoch.
“Excuse me, Mr. Lancer?” the man asked with a foreign accent.
“I am Herr Mueller from Vienna, Austria. Is this boy your son? He sings like an angel.”
“Yes, he is my son. Is there something I can help you with…um..Herr Mueller?” Murdoch asked cautiously.
“Actually, it is something I can do to help your son.”
“I wasn’t aware my son needed help.”
“Well, if he is to develop this gift he has, he should come with me to Vienna and join the Vienna Boys Choir. Not only will he develop his talent, he will also receive a quality education. How old is he?” Herr Mueller asked.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Johnny snapped. Johnny did not like people talking about him or his brothers in front of them as if they were not able to speak for themselves.
“John,” Murdoch censured mildly.
Johnny had the grace to look a little embarrassed, but he was still wary of this stranger from a strange land.
Herr Mueller looked at Johnny in a haughty manner, then smiled down at Truman, who was grasping Johnny’s hand tightly.
“How old are you, young man?” Herr Mueller asked.
“I’m seven. Where is Vienna, Austria?” Truman asked.
“It’s in western Europe. The Vienna Boys Choir is a very prestigious choir. The boys travel all around the world. It was established in 1498. Many of our first choirboys went on to be famous musicians. Don‘t you want to be a famous musician?”
“No. I’m stayin’ right here with my Papa and brothers and sister. I’m not goin’ anywhere,” True declared.
The man laughed.
“Well, you are a bit too young, anyway. Just think about it, for the future. I’d hate to see that talent wasted,” Herr Mueller replied.
“I sing in church and for fun. I don’t want to be a musician,” True replied.
“Why not? You sing like an angel,” Herr Mueller replied.
“I want to be a cowboy, an artist, and a vet’rinarian,” the boy replied.
“Those are mighty big goals, young man,” Mueller said. “You’ll have to study hard in school.”
“I already do.”
“Yes, he does. We’ve enjoyed talking to you, but we need to put the boy to bed. Thank you for the interest and compliments, but my son is too young to travel halfway around the world without his family, and he doesn’t want to go, anyway. Have a nice holiday, Herr Mueller. Good night,” Murdoch said politely, yet firmly.
“Good night, Mr. Lancer, Miss, gentlemen.” Mueller tipped his hat and left the family.
Truman was leaning heavily against Johnny’s leg. He was tired before Mueller talked to them, and now he was exhausted. Johnny bent down and picked up the sleepy child and held him close. He ushered his family out the door and to the hotel.
After the family was settled into their rooms, Johnny and Scott helped the boy undress and prepare for bed. Scott put True’s suit on a hanger while Johnny wrestled him into a nightshirt. As soon as the child was tucked into bed, he fell asleep and slept deeply through the night. The older Lancer gentlemen gathered in the sitting area of their suite and marveled at Truman’s beautiful singing.
“When he began “Ave Maria” I couldn’t believe my ears. It was incredible!” Murdoch stated.
“Yeah! Where did he learn ta sing like that?” Johnny asked.
“Some people are blessed with natural talent, like you and Truman are great artists. You just pick up a pencil and draw something ordinary and make it extraordinary,” Scott said, complimenting Johnny’s raw artistic talent.
Johnny ducked his head and smiled shyly, as was his custom when being praised.
“It’s true, son. You and Truman have a very special artistic gift. I’ve heard Truman singing before, while he worked in the garden or fed his boys, but never anything like this. I’m not surprised Mueller wanted to recruit Truman for the choir, but I am very relieved he’s too young to be in the choir,” Murdoch said.
“Yeah, I can’t imagine our lil guy going all the way to Austria with a stranger. Do they speak English there?” Johnny asked.
“Some people do, Johnny, like Mueller, but most of them speak German,” Scott answered.
“We don’t have to worry about Truman going to Austria. He’s too young and he doesn’t want to go. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he wants to be a veterinarian. When he’s older, maybe he can help Dr. Hildebrand to be sure he really likes the work. If he does, we can find a good school for him to attend,” Murdoch stated.
“I wasn’t surprised at all, Murdoch. True is really good with animals. Must be from his experience in the circus. I’ll miss him when he goes off ta school, though. That lil cowboy will hafta go all the way ta San Francisco to learn to be a vet,” Johnny said.
“Johnny, True won’t be so little by the time he’s old enough to go off to school. He has about eleven more years here, with us. Who knows? Maybe by that time there will be a school closer to Lancer. Maybe he will change his mind and want to be something else,” Scott said.
“I don’t know, Scott. True IS a Lancer, an’ you know what that means, dontcha?” Johnny asked.
“It means he’s stubborn and he’ll stick to what he has decided he wants ta be,” Johnny answered with a grin.
Murdoch chuckled at this.
“Well, he’s still pretty young to know what he wants to do when he’s an adult. He COULD change his mind. We’ll just have to humor him and enjoy the years we have him with us. Let’s go to bed. We have church in the morning, then I have some last minute Christmas things to do when we get home tomorrow,” Murdoch stated.
“Um, does Santa need any help?” Scott asked.
“As a matter of fact, you two can keep your little brother occupied, away from the house, while I um…prepare…a few things,” he replied.
“Sure, okay. We love spending time with True. Don’t we, Scott? “ Johnny said.
“Of course. We could take him for a ride or find something for him to do, certainly.”
“Well, good. Thank you. Good night, Johnny.”
“Night, Murdoch. Night, Boston.”
“Good night, Johnny.”
The men parted company. Johnny went to his room and undressed quietly, trying not to make too much noise as the little boy in the other bed slept.
Murdoch and Scott retired to the room they shared and prepared for bed, each deep within their own thoughts.
Sam Jenkins met the Lancer family for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. He had intended to attend the program the night before, but had been called away to deliver a baby.
He knew of the Lancers’ plans because Murdoch had left a note for him. Sam planned to attend church with the Lancers. Cip escorted Maria to Mass, using a rented surrey. Jelly decided to attend church with the Lancers.
“I’m sorry I missed your program last night, Truman. I had to deliver a baby. I’m coming to church to hear you sing, though. Your Papa told me that you sang like an angel last night,” Sam praised the boy.
“Thank you, Uncle Sam. You delivered a baby? Where was it bein’ sent? How much postage did you need?” Truman asked innocently, yet seriously.
The adults at the table stared at the child with dropped jaws, then laughed raucously. Truman scowled and dropped his head .
Murdoch noticed the boy’s changed demeanor and realized that Truman was being serious and that his feelings had been hurt.
“Truman, son. I’m so sorry. We didn’t mean to laugh at you. We weren’t trying to be mean,” Murdoch tried to explain.
“Okay. Will you answer my questions, now?”
“Yes, Son. Delivering a baby means that Uncle Sam is with the mother when the baby is born to make sure everything goes well and that the baby and mother are fine. Then, Uncle Sam holds and weighs the baby, checks him over, and puts him in his mother’s arms,” Murdoch explained patiently, without too many impertinent details that the child may not understand.
“Oh. So, the baby is not put in the mail? When Andy was born, there wasn‘t a doctor like Uncle Sam to d‘liver him. He died. I didn‘t know that was what they called it when a baby is born with a doctor there.”
“No, the baby is not put in the mail. I know you brother died, son, and I‘m very sorry a doctor wasn‘t there to help your mother. You told us that Andy was born too early.”
“Yeah, he was. But if a doctor was there when he was born, he coulda helped Andy feel better for a little while, couldn’t he?”
“He could have.”
“Yeah, I guess. Is it time for church, yet?” Truman asked. His mood had been restored to normal.
Murdoch glanced at his watch and smiled.
“Almost, son. Finish your breakfast, okay?”
The family, Sam, and Jelly resumed eating their breakfast. When they were finished, they walked to the church. Truman was walking between Johnny and Scott. He looked up at Johnny and smiled. Johnny looked down at the boy and returned the smile, then gently squeezed the child’s hand. Truman returned the gesture. He knew that Johnny was Catholic and went to the small church in Morro Coyo sometimes, but he was happy that Johnny was coming to their Protestant church to hear him sing.
The family was early enough to find good seats. Truman was summoned by Mr. Peabody and went with the choir director to the rehearsal room to put on his robes. The church bells rang, signaling the hour of worship had arrived. The children’s choir came through the doors and sang “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” as they walked up to the choir pews. After they sat, Reverend McKean said a prayer, read scripture from the Bible, then welcomed the guests and made some announcements pertaining to the later Christmas Eve services. After a brief sermon, the choir sang some more songs, and Truman sang his two songs again. The choir and the congregation sang the Doxology after the offering and “Silent Night” at the conclusion of the services.
The family had lunch in town and then went back to the ranch. Truman chattered excitedly about Christmas and Santa and Baby Jesus. By the time they arrived at the front door, the boy was sound asleep with his head in Jelly’s lap. Johnny and Scott turned their horses over to Jose and Miguel, then went to help their family members down from the surrey. Scott took Truman from Jelly while Johnny helped Teresa down. Murdoch jumped down and helped Jelly with the luggage. Scott took Truman to his room and laid the boy on his bed. He took the child’s overcoat, suit coat, tie, and shoes off, then spread a blanket over the sleeping child and left the room quietly after neatly placing the suit coat and tie on a chair. Scott took the boy’s coat down and hung it on the foyer coat tree, then joined his family in the living room.
Chapter 13 Christmas Day
Johnny and Scott woke Truman and they went out for a ride while Murdoch organized the child’s gifts.
Murdoch put True’s stocking fillers in a clean flour sack and hid it under his bed. Then, he put the boy’s wrapped gifts under the tree. The gifts from Santa were placed carefully into a box and put on a high shelf in the kitchen pantry.
Johnny, Scott, and Truman rode all over the southeast mesa, checking the herd, the fences that contained it, and the watering holes. They also checked the line shack in that area and worked together to fix the front door, which had been blown off of one of its hinges by a recent strong wind. They swept the inside and secured the door to prevent squatters from using the shack and its supplies during the winter.
They also discovered that they needed to repair one of the vertical support beams of the lean-to that had been dislodged by the same strong wind that had blown the door.
Truman proved to be a great helper. He held the tools for Scott and Johnny and retrieved the tools from Scott’s saddle bags as asked.
Since it was Christmas Eve, the day was shorter and the sun began to sink early. The Lancer sons decided it would be prudent to start back before it became dark.
They started back toward the hacienda. They had enjoyed each others’ company and accomplished quite a bit that afternoon. They were pleased that they would be able to give Murdoch a good report so he would have a worry-free Christmas.
The Lancer boys rode to the hacienda and turned their horses over to some hands and entered the house, happy to be home. Murdoch was sitting in his favorite chair, smoking his pipe , and admiring the tree. Truman’s copy of T’was the Night Before Christmas was on the table next to the chair.
“Hello, boys. Have a good ride?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, Papa! We ‘complished a lot, too,” the youngest replied.
“Oh? Like what?” Murdoch asked, curiosity piqued.
“We checked the cows, the fences, the line shack, fixed the door and the lean-to, swept out the dust bunnies, an we also checked the waterin’ holes, too.”
“Really? Well, you were busy cowboys. Go get washed up for supper. Johnny, are you going to Midnight Mass?”
“I don’t think so. Now that I’m home, I don’t wanna go anywhere,” Johnny said.
“Okay. Supper will be ready soon,” Murdoch replied.
The Lancer boys washed up then joined the rest of the family for supper. They had a wonderful time talking about the Christmas program, the church service, the upcoming visit with the Barkley family, and Christmas Day plans.
“Papa,” Truman said, trying to get Murdoch’s attention.
“I saw my Santa book over there by your chair. Will you read it to me tonight? Please?”
“Of course, I will. That’s why I put it there, so I wouldn’t forget.”
“Okay, thanks, Papa. What’s for dessert?” True asked.
The adult members of the family smiled at the boy.
“We have chocolate cake and apple pie, True,” Teresa answered.
“YUMMM. Could we have hot cocoa, too?”
“I think so. I hear you were a big help to Johnny and Scott today. Did you enjoy your afternoon?” Teresa asked.
“Yes. We had fun bein’ together.”
Dessert was served. Johnny and True had chocolate cake and milk and hot cocoa. The others had a slice of apple pie. Once they were finished, they all chipped in to clear the table. After the dishes were washed and dried and the kitchen cleaned, the family made their way into the living room.
Truman gazed at the tree in admiration as Murdoch and Scott lit the candles. He was startled to see new packages under the tree. Several had been added. There were a few with his name on them and some with the other family members’ names on the gift tags.
“Truman, go and get ready for bed, then I’ll read your Santa book to the whole family,” Murdoch instructed his youngest.
“Okay, Papa. I’ll be back faster than Dewdrop can squawk,” True replied.
The family laughed, even Jelly thought the boy’s phrase was funny. Jelly was in a good mood this evening.
“That was a new one,” Johnny said, still chuckling.
“Yeah. He sure comes up with some funny things to say,” Scott agreed.
“He’s a bright little fellow,” Murdoch concurred.
“He’s precious,” Teresa added.
Soon, the scuffle of slippered feet could be heard from the stairway and Truman appeared in his nightwear. He made his way over to Murdoch’s chair and crawled into his Papa’s lap. The other family members and Jelly made themselves comfortable on the couch and various chairs.
Murdoch snuggled his boy and opened the book the boy had picked up and handed to him.
Murdoch started reading the poem. His voice was fluent and the cadence was pleasing to everyone’s ears.
Truman joined his Papa in reading the last line, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night !”
Murdoch smiled and gently ruffled the boy’s hair. He closed the book, then kissed the child’s head lovingly.
“It’s time for bed, Son. Santa won’t leave anything if he knows you’re still awake.”
“What is it?”
“We should leave a snack for Santa. He might get hungry after visiting so many houses. We could leave some water and carrots for the reindeer, too,” the boy suggested.
“Okay, go with Teresa and get the treats, then, it’s off to bed, young man,” Murdoch replied.
“Okay, Papa. What about them? Don’t Teresa, Johnny an’ Scott hafta got to bed now, too?”
The family chuckled.
“They will go to bed, just a little later because they are older. Just like they always do. You know what time you are expected to go to bed, young man, and you know that we older people stay up later.”
“Yes, Papa, I know. I just thought that since Santa is comin’ tonight that they hadda go to bed early, too.”
“Nice try, kiddo. Go get that snack for Santa,” Scott said.
Truman smiled and shrugged, then went off to the kitchen with Teresa to cut a slice of cake and put it on a plate and pour milk into a glass. They also found some carrots for the reindeer.
Once the treats had been placed on the coffee table, and a short note had been written by Truman, the boy said his good nights and gave his family hugs. Murdoch took him up and tucked him into bed after the boy said his prayers.
Murdoch returned to the family room and caught Johnny eating “Santa’s” snack.
“John! That’s for Santa!” Murdoch admonished.
Johnny looked at Murdoch with wide eyes, reminding Murdoch of a deer caught unawares by a hunter.
Luckily, there was still a large portion of the cake left. The others were snickering at Johnny being caught “with his hand in the cookie jar.”
“That’s coal an’ switches for you, young’un,” Jelly put in his two cents worth.
Scott, Johnny, Teresa, and Murdoch laughed, quietly. Jelly grinned and shook his head.
“Wal‘, I better go on ta bed. See y’all in the morning.”
Jelly said good night to the Lancers and went to bed.
“Well, I guess you younger folks better go on to bed. I have a feeling we will be up extremely early tomorrow morning,” Murdoch warned with a grin.
“Good night, Murdoch,” the younger Lancers said, overlapping each other.
“Good night, Darling. Good night, Scott. Good night, Johnny,” Murdoch responded as he gave each a brief hug before sending them of to bed.
Once the others had left the living room, Murdoch went to the kitchen and pulled out Truman’s unwrapped presents. He placed them in front of the tree, but not in the main traffic path. After the tyke’s gifts had been lovingly arranged, Murdoch went upstairs and gathered the stocking fillers for the family. He brought them down and stuffed the stockings. Jelly and Truman’s dog, Trevor, had stockings hung by the chimney with care, too.
Murdoch finished off the cake and milk that “Santa Johnny” had started eating. He placed the carrots outside for the reindeer and went to bed.
4:17 a.m. Christmas Day morning
The door that connected Johnny’s and Truman’s rooms barely made a sound as it was opened. Suddenly, Johnny was very thankful that he no longer slept with a gun under his pillow or a tragedy would have a occurred this cold, Christmas morning. A little whirlwind ran across the room and jumped onto Johnny’s bed, shaking him violently out of blissful slumber.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS, JOHNNY! WAKE UP! GOTTA SEE WHAT SANTA BROUGHT!” Truman yelled.
“Truman! Get down and be quiet before you wake the valley!”
“That’s the idea! Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory! It’s Christmas!! Come on!! Get up!” Truman begged and harassed as he pulled on Johnny’s arm, trying to pull him out of bed.
Scott and Murdoch came in to Johnny’s room, bleary eyed and a little bit grouchy at having been wakened so early and abruptly. Yet, they understood the boy’s excitement and could not stay angry with the exuberant child.
“Murdoch! Do something, please?” Johnny pleaded for reprieve.
Murdoch chuckled at his middle son, whose eyes were at half mast, with his black hair more unruly than usual from moving about while asleep.
“Okay, Johnny, I’ll take him off your hands. Come on, Truman. You’ve terrorized your poor brother long enough. It’s WAY too early for us to be up, son. Let’s go back to bed for a couple of hours,” Murdoch suggested strongly, but kindly.
“But Santa came. I heard the jingle bells on his sleigh and the reindeer. We gotta see if Santa liked the cake an’ milk. We gotta see if the reindeer liked their carrots,” Truman said, protesting the idea of going back to bed.
“We’ll see that later. It’s still dark out and we can’t see anything right now. Come on, now. Let Johnny and Scott get some more sleep.”
Truman sighed and nodded. Murdoch picked him up and took him back to bed. After tucking his excited youngest boy back into his bed, Murdoch laid on the bed with the boy, hoping his presence would discourage the child from making another attempt at waking the household.
Six-thirty finally came. Even though it had seemed like an eternity to both Truman and Murdoch, it had actually only been 2 hours since they had returned to bed.
Truman had not been able to go back to sleep. He was too wound up. Murdoch allowed Truman to read in his bed quietly while he dozed. Murdoch woke when he heard the others in the house moving about in their rooms.
“Well, young man, it sounds like the house is finally waking up,” Murdoch said.
“It’s about time! How can they sleep when Santa has come?” Truman asked.
Murdoch chuckled and sat up, enveloped his little boy in a big bear hug, then scooted off the bed.
“Come on, get dressed, then we’ll have breakfast.”
“Breakfast first, then presents. Don’t be greedy, now.”
“I’m not, Papa! I wanna see if you and the others like what I got for you, honest,” Truman said.
“Oh, okay. That’s sweet. Come on, now, get dressed.”
The boy washed his face after he undressed and then pulled on a flannel shirt and brown pants. Then, the socks. Murdoch brushed his boy’s hair and True buckled his belt.
“Do I hafta wear shoes or can I wear my slippers or boots?”
“You may wear your slippers for now, but wear your boots or shoes for Christmas dinner,” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch took True to Scott’s room to be supervised while he dressed. Scott was dressed and finishing his shave when Murdoch brought the boy in.
“Scott, keep an eye on the whirlwind here, please. I’m going to get dressed. Is Johnny up?”
“I’m up, Murdoch,” Johnny said as he entered Scott’s room. He was dressed in a blue flannel shirt, black pants, and boots.
Johnny looked down at Truman. He tried to glare at the boy for waking him up before the crack of dawn, but his lips twitched into a smile and he lifted the child and tossed him onto Scott’s neatly made bed. Johnny sat on the bed and tickled the child mercilessly.
“Hey! I just made that bed!” Scott protested as the two younger Lancer sons messed it up in their play.
“You sure are lucky today is Christmas cause if you woke me on any other day like that, you’d be in BIG trouble, lil cowboy!” Johnny warned.
“Oh, yeah?” True replied boldly.
“Yeah!” Scott and Johnny said together, both pouncing on the boy and tickling him.
Truman saw Murdoch standing in the doorway, watching his boys play.
“Papa! Save me!”
“Oh, I think you’re getting just what you deserve, Truman Oliver, especially waking the house as you did at 4 this morning!”
Murdoch nodded, then left and dressed.
Once the family was dressed and groomed and Scott’s bed had been remade, the family was finally ready to descend the back stairs to the kitchen, where Truman spotted Maria working on breakfast. He ran to her and wished her a Merry Christmas in Spanish. Maria hugged the child close for a minute, then ordered him to find his seat.
The rest of the family greeted Maria as lovingly but a bit more sedately, then sat at the table for breakfast. Murdoch said the blessing and the family dug in enthusiastically.
Truman was bouncing in his chair with barely contained excitement. He was trying not to rush his family, but they knew he was eager to tear into the living room.
Finally, the moment arrived.
Murdoch took Truman by the hand and the family filed into the living room. The patriarch let go of the boy’s hand and encouraged him to go see what Santa had left for him.
Truman walked to the area slowly, taking it all in. He gasped with pleasure at the wooden train, a set of finely carved horses, and the easel set up with a water- color paint set, brushes, a palette, and canvases. There were soldiers marching alongside the train
The family stood back and watched the boy taking it all in. When he finally turned to see his family watching him with big grins, Truman had tears in his eyes, but a big grin on his face. He ran to Murdoch and hugged him. Murdoch lifted the child and held the overwhelmed child close.
“What do you think? Was Santa good to you?”
“He was too good, Papa. Did you see my train? And the soldiers? And the horses? And look, Papa! An easel an’ paints!”
“Yep, he sure was good to you. But ya know what?” Johnny asked Truman.
“You deserved it. You’re a great kid!”
“Thanks, Johnny. So are you.”
Scott and the others laughed heartily. Even Johnny chuckled a bit and shook his head. The rest of the family gathered on the couch and Truman enjoyed giving each a gift with their names on it. Teresa loved the angel Truman had given to her and squeezed the boy tightly. Johnny and Scott both appreciated the gifts the youngest Lancer had chosen for them. Everyone laughed at the gift Truman gave Jelly and Dewdrop.
“What is it?” Jelly asked as he unrolled the home made certificate.
“It’s a promise that Dew Drop will never be invited to Christmas Dinner, as the main meat!” Truman explained, then threw his head back and laughed heartily.
The rest of the family joined in the laughter and, even though Jelly tried to remain stern, he couldn’t help himself and joined in.
“Papa, I couldn’t find something to buy for you at the store, so I drawed a picture for you,” Truman said solemnly.
“You drew a picture for me? I bet it’s more special than anything you could have found in the store. May I see it?”
“Sure Papa.” Truman found the package and handed it to Murdoch.
When Murdoch unwrapped the gift, he gasped. Truman had drawn a picture of the hacienda and put Johnny, Scott, Teresa, and himself in the picture, standing in front of the hacienda and smiling at the viewer.
“Truman, this is extraordinary! I am so touched and proud of you. This is priceless!” Murdoch exclaimed.
He set the picture down reverently and pulled the boy close, hugging him tightly.
“That’s beautiful, Truman! We should have this framed, Murdoch,” Teresa said.
“We will, first thing tomorrow morning!” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch released his son and smiled.
“We are so very blessed to have you with us, Son.”
“I’m blessed, too, Papa. You saved my life.”
There was not a dry eye in the room. Then, Jelly cleared his throat.
“Hey, there are still a lot of unopened presents under the tree,” Jelly reminded them.
“Jelly’s right. Let’s see what else we have here,” Scott said, getting the others moving again.
“I’m going to put this in the study so nothing happens to it. I’ll be right back. Go ahead and unwrap more presents,” Murdoch said.
He picked up the picture and took it to the study, then returned and resumed his seat in the armchair.
The gifts were distributed. Everyone was pleased with their gifts. Johnny received an easel as well, from Scott, with a set of acrylic paints, canvases, brushes, and a palette. Truman and Johnny set up their easels out on the patio and painted together after the living room was cleaned up.
Soon, the guests who had been invited for Christmas Dinner began arriving. Val, Doc Jenkins, Miss May, and Claire arrived within minutes of each other. Scott and Murdoch came out to greet them as Maria and Teresa put the finishing touches on the dinner.
“Boys, you need to clean up and get ready for dinner,” Murdoch instructed Johnny and Truman kindly.
“Okay, Papa. We will, Murdoch,” the brothers replied.
The family sat down for dinner with their guests. Murdoch said the blessing in Gaelic and English while everyone at the table held hands. The dinner was a traditional fare with some international flair.
After everyone had eaten to fulfillment, they gathered in the living room and more gifts were exchanged. The Lancers and their guests visited with each other for a few hours and Murdoch showed off the picture Truman had drawn.
Truman received the praise gracefully, yet shyly. The child was exhausted and had been caught yawning several times. Johnny pulled the boy into his lap and they both dozed off.
“They must be tired from all the activity this morning,” Sam commented.
“Hehe, Truman woke the house at 4:20 this morning. I managed to put him back to bed, but he didn’t go back to sleep,” Murdoch replied.
“The stockings haven’t been touched, yet,” Teresa pointed out.
“We’ll open them later, darling. Let the boys sleep. They’ve been painting since midmorning and they’ve worn themselves out.”
The guests stayed to help consume the leftovers. Truman and Johnny had slept for an hour before Scott and Val woke them to take a ride. When they returned, the leftover platters were laid out and everyone helped themselves.
The stockings were taken down and distributed after the guests had departed. Truman had received a top, a yo-yo, some marbles, an orange, and some socks.
The others had received more useful items, such as socks, handkerchiefs, bright bandanas, hair ribbons for Teresa, and pipe tobacco for Murdoch.
Johnny took Truman up to bed and tucked him in after the boy had said his good nights. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
“Well, I think it was a wonderful Christmas,” Murdoch declared.
“Yes it was,” the others chorused.
“God bless us, everyone,” Johnny said, quoting Tiny Tim.
“He already has, Johnny,” Murdoch said affectionately.
Epilogues to follow
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Epilogue 1
Truman’s first Lancer Christmas was wonderful, happy, and joyful, yet bittersweet.
On the evening of December 26th, Johnny was roaming around the hacienda, looking for True. He found the boy sitting on the low wall of the veranda and looking up into the sky as the moon rose and the stars sparkled.
“True? You all right, lil cowboy?” Johnny asked softly, and with concern.
The boy turned when he heard Johnny’s voice.
“Hey, Johnny. I was talkin’ to Dad, Mum, and lil Andy. I was telling them that I missed them but I had a great Christmas and I wish they coulda been here to share it with us,” Truman replied quietly.
Johnny walked up to the boy and stood behind him, wrapping his arms around the child’s shoulders to show loving support and offer security. Truman reached up and grasped Johnny’s wrist with one hand and rested his chin on Johnny’s forearm. Johnny rested his chin on top of the boy’s head.
“We did have a great Christmas, True. And we’ll have many more. I know you miss your folks and little brother, but remember what Papa said about keeping them in your heart. If they’re in your heart, they will be with you always. I miss my mama, but I keep her in my heart and I know she’s sharing good times and bad times with me.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s still hard, though.”
“I know, Truman, I know. It’ll get easier, though.”
Truman shivered and Johnny realized the temperature was dropping.
“Let’s go inside before Teresa comes out here and starts fussin’ at us about catchin’ our deaths,” Johnny suggested.
Truman nodded. Johnny lifted the boy off the wall and hugged him close. He started walking towards the front door with Truman safely in his arms when Murdoch opened the door and came out, looking for his two youngest.
“Boys, everything alright? I was getting concerned.”
“We’re fine, Murdoch. Just talkin’,” Johnny replied.
Murdoch nodded as his boys passed him and entered the house. He shrugged, then followed them inside, closing the door firmly behind him.
Truman’s Lancer Christmas, Epilogue 2 : The Barkleys’ Visit to Lancer
“We have a busy day tomorrow,” Murdoch stated as they gathered in the living room after supper on the 26th of December.
The tree was still up and decorated, but the gifts had been put away. Truman’s new toys were in his toy box. He walked over to it and lovingly took out his horses and covered wagon and started playing on the floor with them as Murdoch outlined the plans for the next day.
“The Barkleys will be arriving on the three o’clock stage. If you want to join me in meeting them, you’ll have to ride your horses. There’s not enough room in the surrey for all of us and the Barkleys.
“I’m stayin’ home,” the youngest Lancer proclaimed as he maneuvered the horses and wagon.
“Okay, son. Is anyone going with me?”
“I’ll go with you, Murdoch,” Scott offered.
“Okay. Anybody else?” Murdoch asked.
“I’ll stay and help Maria with dinner preparations,” Teresa offered.
Murdoch nodded and looked at Johnny, who was watching True with a soft smile.
“Johnny?” Murdoch called.
“Hmm? Oh, sorry. I’ll stay with True.”
“Okay. Well, I guess it’s just the two of us, Scott.”
“We’ll have a big dinner, then relax. Thursday, I thought we could go riding. We could invite Aggie for dinner on Friday. Saturday night is the social, and EVERYONE is going. We’ll go to church on Sunday, and then we can enjoy a relaxing New Year’s Eve at home,” Teresa said, planning aloud.
“Whoa, there, Teresa. Let’s ask the Barkleys what they’d like to do. They may not want every minute of their visit planned and we have to get this ranch running again,” Murdoch said.
“Good point, Murdoch. I never liked my fun organized,” Johnny interceded.
“Going to a church social will not hurt anyone, John.”
Teresa smirked at her foster brother. Johnny made a face back at her.
“However, we will ask our guests what they would like to do,” Murdoch concluded.
Now it was Johnny’s turn to smirk and Teresa scowled. Scott watched this interaction with amusement but kept silent. Truman had been listening and glanced up once in a while. He also thought Johnny and Teresa were being funny and shared a grin with Scott.
“Come sit with me for a moment,” Murdoch instructed.
Truman joined Murdoch in the armchair. Murdoch reminded the boy to be polite to their guests even if he didn’t like them all the time. Truman agreed that he would try his best to comply.
“Alright, son. Put your toys away and say good night,” Murdoch instructed gently.
“Why?” Truman asked. He was very tired, but did not want to admit it. He had been busy all day and skipped a nap, so now he was whiny and near a melt down.
“Because it is 8:30 and it’ s time you were in bed. No arguments, now.”
Johnny recognized the beginnings of a tantrum and took the initiative to head it off. He took the boy from Murdoch and hung him upside down.
“Pick up your horses, True,” Johnny instructed.
True complied. Johnny carried the boy, still upside down, to the open toy box and lowered True so he could put the toys in the box carefully. They repeated the process for the other toys. Johnny flipped the youngster over his shoulder and closed the lid to the toy box. Truman was giggling and enjoying this playfulness with Johnny. Then, Johnny flipped Truman upside down again and carried him by the legs to each of the other family members in the room so he could say his goodnights. They all smiled at the boy’s upside down hugs that he
gave to them. When they finished the process, Johnny put True on his shoulders and took him up to bed.
While Truman prepared for bed, Johnny gave him a little pep talk about minding Murdoch and not whining. True said his prayers, hugged Johnny good night and Johnny tucked him in. After Johnny lowered the wick, he tweaked the boy’s nose, wished him sweet dreams and left quietly.
When Johnny returned to the living room, Murdoch thanked him for heading off a tantrum.
“No problem, Murdoch. Ya just have to create a diversion, get his mind off what was botherin’ him and make ordinary chores a little more fun,” Johnny replied.
“And you’re a master at that, Johnny,” Scott praised.
The older Lancers enjoyed a peaceful evening and turned in a little earlier than usual.
Truman stayed with Johnny and they cared for the horses and took a ride while Murdoch and Scott went to town to greet the Barkleys.
The Lancers and their guests enjoyed a lively dinner that evening. Nick and Truman were on their best behavior and civil towards each other. After dinner, Truman challenged Heath to a game of Chess and won. After the youngest Lancer was put to bed by Scott, the Lancers and their guests talked quietly and shared gossip. Audra and Teresa sneaked away to admire Teresa’s new sewing machine. They talked about the latest fashions and their favorite fabrics.
Thursday, the Lancer and Barkley sons rode to Black Mesa and rounded up a small herd of wild stallions and mares. Truman proved himself a good cowboy while keeping the foals and yearlings moving along with the rest of the herd. Johnny and Scott were proud of Truman and the Barkleys were suitably impressed.
After a leisurely lunch, the family and their guests settled in the living room for coffee and to digest their food before engaging in other activities. After finishing their coffee, Johnny and Scott had taken their male guests to the corral to look over the horses. Truman had gone to bed, begrudgingly, but he was cheerful when he returned after his siesta.
“Why does Truman still take naps?” Victoria Barkley asked, after the boy had run outside to join his brothers and the Barkley boys at the corral.
“He is the type of child who needs a lot of rest. He is so active during the day and if he doesn’t have a siesta, as he likes to call it, he gets overtired and falls to pieces over little things,” Murdoch explained.
“Hopefully, he will begin to outgrow it. It may take a few years. We’ve learned that when he is close to the edge, it’s best to stay calm and talk him into doing something quiet and relaxing that he enjoys. We do not fuss at him or get angry, because he can’t help it. It’s just the way he is. So, diversions, a change of subject, or a gentle suggestion to relax or rest, usually does the trick. More often than not, he falls asleep once he has calmed down,” Murdoch continued.
Victoria nodded. “My youngest boy, Eugene, was like that when he was young. He still partakes in siestas when he is home for holidays.”
“How is Eugene doing in school?” Murdoch asked.
“Very well, thank you.”
“Great. Well, I think it’s time to get back to work. I have to ride out to the west range to check some dams and bridges. Would you like to go with me?” Murdoch asked.
“I would love to, Murdoch,” Victoria answered.
They saddled their horses after Murdoch spoke to Scott and Johnny to let them know of their plans.
Johnny gently broke three horses before it was time to wash for supper. Murdoch and Victoria had returned from their excursion about half an hour before supper and watched as Johnny finished working the last horse.
Supper was, again, a lively affair. Heath and Nick told exaggerated stories of Johnny’s prowess with the horses. Johnny tried to intervene, but could not get a word in edgewise. Scott and Truman chuckled at their brother’s discomfort and the wild stories the Barkleys were sharing.
Heath wanted a rematch with Truman to save his pride. He won, but by the skin of his teeth. Truman was a good sport, as usual, and shook his opponent’s hand, declaring their match a good game.
After Murdoch put his youngest to bed, the Barkleys praised True’s good behavior. The Lancers smiled and agreed quietly, but insisted that they couldn’t take all the credit for Truman’s good manners and agreeable disposition.
Friday, they did, indeed, invite Aggie Conway and her fiance Buck Addison, to dinner.
In the meantime, the boys went fishing. Scott and Truman each caught three good sized fish. The others caught a couple of catfish and one bass, but when Johnny became frustrated when the fish kept stealing his bait, he started shooting at them. The fishing expedition was finished.
The young ranchers decided to do some hunting while they were out, so they hiked up into the hills, where it had snowed and tracking animals would be easy in the shallow snow. Johnny took charge of Truman and made sure he understood how important it was to listen to him and Scott and to be quiet while they tracked the game. They took cover in a copse of thick pines and sat waiting. Finally, a herd of deer walked by, looking for food. Heath waited until a large buck strayed from the herd and took careful aim. The buck was a muscular 4 pointer. Truman stared in awe at the dead deer. Johnny and Heath worked together to secure the game while Nick and Scott went to retrieve the horses. Truman stayed with Johnny and Heath and helped when he could. When the horses were brought back, they tied the carcass to Johnny’s horse and started back to the ranch.
Johnny showed Truman how to clean and prepare fish and they cooked it on the outside grill. The Lancers and their guests enjoyed a fish feast for lunch. Once the Barkley sons cleaned and dressed the deer, Maria, Teresa, and Audra prepared it for dinner.
Aggie and Buck arrived early for dinner. Truman was not fond of Buck Addison. He thought the man was obnoxious. Aggie, however, was one of his favorite people and he behaved himself so he would not upset Aggie or embarrass his family.
Truman was overwhelmed at the number of people sitting at the dining room table. He was extremely quiet throughout the meal. Johnny and Scott both noticed this and exchanged worried glances. After chocolate cake was consumed as dessert, the Lancers and their guests convened in the living room and talked about cattle, the price of feed, and other relevant topics. Truman disappeared from the room quietly. He made his way to his room, where he sat at his desk and drew some pictures of horses and knights.
Johnny had noticed the boy’s quiet retreat and excused himself for a few minutes. He went upstairs and peeked into Truman’s room. After knocking and receiving an invitation to enter, Johnny strolled over to the boy and knelt next to him. He admired the boy’s artwork and gently squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah. It’s just that…”
“Too many people down there?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, I felt invidible,” Truman answered.
“Invisible?” Johnny corrected the boy kindly.
“Yeah. I just wanted some quiet time up here.”
“Okay. You gonna come down to say good night later?” Johnny asked.
“I dunno. I might forget an’ fall asleep.”
“Well, if you do, sweet dreams. You’re a great lil cowboy, True.”
“Thanks, Johnny. I love you, too.”
Johnny grinned and placed a gentle kiss on the boy’s head, patted his shoulder and left quietly.
“Where is Truman?” Johnny heard Murdoch ask as he descended the stairs.
“He’s in his room, Murdoch. He’s okay.”
“It’s not his bedtime, yet. What’s he doing?” Murdoch asked as he headed towards the stairs.
“Drawing. He was a bit overwhelmed and needed some peace an’ quiet. He’s fine. Just let him be, okay?” Johnny said.
Murdoch turned and nodded.
The next evening was the Church dance. The Lancers and their guests decided to go. Johnny and Truman were not thrilled, but they complied.
During the day, the Lancer and Barkley boys, except Jarrod, who had caught a cold during their last outing, went to check and clear waterholes on the south range.
Jarrod had been working very hard on a case before the holidays and was exhausted, thus rendering his immune system below par and leaving him susceptible to a myriad of illnesses. So, he stayed in with his mother and the girls. He relaxed on the couch and rested, reading one of the tomes from Murdoch’s ever expanding collection.
Chores were completed in the early afternoon and baths were taken before supper. Everyone was dressed in their finest. Johnny and Truman both decided to wear their caballero suits.
In the end, the dance turned out to be fun, even though it had been organized. They danced, ate, and socialized with ranchers and their families, some of whom they had not seen since the August cattle drive. Truman enjoyed dancing with Laura Lane and was even cajoled into singing a couple of songs.
The morning after the dance, the household and its guests woke later than usual, easing themselves into the day. Breakfast was scrumptious. Again, there were several people to feed since Aggie and Buck had stayed overnight. They would attend church and return to their ranch after lunch in town with the Lancers and Barkleys.
Truman was clingy this morning. He only wanted to be with his brothers or Murdoch and would not talk to anyone else. Murdoch decided to have a private talk with his son, so he escorted the child to his bedroom. They sat together on the edge of the bed.
“What’s going on with you today? You’ve been very good and helpful these past few days. Why the sudden change?”
“There are too many people here and I don’t like Mr. Addison. I just want it to be us again,” True responded.
“I know Mr. Addison is hard to take sometimes, but is there a specific reason why you don’t like him?”
“He said he thinks your sons distract you from making deals with him,” True replied.
“Did he tell you that?” Murdoch asked, alarmed. “Did he tell you he doesn’t like you and that you distract me from making business deals with him?”
“I heard him talking to Nick yesterday. I was in the barn loft, raking hay, and when they came in, I stopped. I know I’m not supposed to listen, but I had no place ta go,” True replied. “Besides, it’s MY barn.”
“OUR barn, son. What did Nick say?”
“He told Mr. Addison he’d be interested in doing business with him. Mr. Addison said you won’t make any deals with him cause you want your sons to get everything and you do everything for us.”
Murdoch put his arms around his boy and held him close.
“They`re right, son. I do make sure that you and your brothers have a successful ranch to run when I am too old to do it. I don’t make a lot of deals with Mr. Addison because I don’t think they are good for the ranch. If Nick or Mr. Addison say anything else to you or you hear them talk about you or us, tell me and I will speak to them, all right?”
“Okay…I’m sorry I wasn’t good the other night when I said no to you.”
“Well, you’re usually very good and you were very tired that evening. But Johnny helped you clean up and put you to bed in a fun way, didn’t he? That made you feel better about going to bed, right?”
“Yes. I’m sorry I said no to you, Papa. You’re right, I was really tired, but I wanted to stay up with you.”
“Apology accepted. Would you like to ride with me to church? Scott can drive the surrey with the Barkleys.”
“Sure, is Johnny comin’?”
“Are you singing today?”
“No, the big choir is singin’ today,” True replied.
“Well, I guess Johnny will be going to his church in Morro Coyo, but we’ll see him at lunch.”
“Okay. Can I sit with you in church and at lunch?”
“Yes, you may. We need to get ready to go, okay? Brush your hair and wash up. Be downstairs in 5 minutes. You don’t have to talk to Nick or Mr. Addison, but you still have to be polite. Understand?”
The family headed to church with their guests. Scott drove the Barkleys to town in their surrey and Johnny went to Morro Coyo, but agreed to meet in Green River for lunch. Truman rode on Chief with Murdoch and the Addisons followed in their carriage.
After church, they all met at the café. Johnny arrived a few minutes late, apologizing.
“The service ran over a little bit,” he explained.
“That’s alright, son. Have a seat.”
They enjoyed their lunch and as the Addisons went back to their ranch, Truman thought, `one down and one to go.’
The Lancers and their guests spent the rest of the New Year’s Eve day relaxing by the fire and visiting. Truman had been playing on the floor under his papa’s watchful eyes. He eventually fell asleep on the rug by the hearth, grasping a horse in each little hand. Murdoch took the boy’s shoes off as Johnny spread a blanket and covered the sleeping child.
Truman had slept for 2 hours and was in a much better frame of mind when he woke in time to wash up for supper. He allowed Jarrod and Heath to escort him to wash and then walked back to the dining room with them. Johnny and Scott had run out to the barn to complete a forgotten chore, then joined everyone at the table, taking their accustomed seats. Truman was still avoiding initiating conversation with Nick like the plague, but answered his questions politely.
New Year’s Eve dinner was both festive and international. American, Scottish, and Mexican fare were all presented on the table. The family and the Barkleys gathered around the table and bowed their heads as Murdoch said the grace. Victoria added her own part, as had been agreed upon before the meal, and they all tucked in to the feast.
After dinner, the family and their guests gathered around the hearth again and chatted and played games of chess and checkers as they waited for the midnight hour to signal a new year.
Truman was allowed to stay up to welcome the new year since he had taken a good nap and was not required to wake early the next morning. As the hour approached, the older Lancer boys and a few hands met outside and prepared for their spectacular celebration. When they returned, Johnny’s and Scott’s faces were red from the cold and they were shivering.
“The temperature has really dropped out there and the clouds are heavy, Murdoch,” Scott reported.
“Oh! We might have a white New Year’s Day!” Audra exclaimed.
At a quarter to midnight, the Lancers and the Barkleys gathered outside. They were joined by the rest of the hands. Johnny and Scott had secured the horses and set up the fireworks display. Murdoch had his stopwatch and when it signaled midnight, Murdoch was the first to yell, “Happy Hogmanay!”
The others returned the greeting and others yelled “Happy New Year!”
Johnny and Scott lit the fuses and the whole ranch was treated to a spectacular fireworks display. Truman sat on Murdoch’s shoulders, holding his hands over his ears, but watching and grinning all the same.
Suddenly, the boy felt something wet on his face. He looked up into the sky and yelled, “Snow! It’s snowing!”
After the fireworks display, Murdoch hustled everyone inside while the older boys and a few hands cleaned up the debris.
“Alright, young man, you got to stay up very late, so now you need to go to sleep. You can play in the snow tomorrow after breakfast and morning chores.”
“Okay, Papa. Thank you. I love you. Good night everyone and Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year, Truman!”
New Year’s Day was bright and white. As soon as breakfast was over, Truman completed his morning chores and started building a snowman. When the older sons of the two families ventured outside, Truman pegged each one with a snowball from a hiding place. He was giggling so hard at their surprise that he was surprised when he was scooped up from behind. He squealed with delight when he recognized the scent of Scott’s expensive cologne from Boston. Johnny joined them and an all out war started between the Lancers and the Barkley’s.
“Hey! This is not fair! You have an extra man to make your ammo!” Nick complained.
As soon as he finished that sentence, he was eating snow, for Johnny had aimed a snowball right at Nick’s big mouth. Heath wasn’t very helpful for the rest of the war because he was laughing too hard to throw snowballs straight.
Murdoch came out and called a truce so lunch and hot chocolate could be served. After lunch, the Barkleys retired to their rooms to pack for their trip home. Truman had his siesta on the couch while Murdoch read a book and rubbed the boy’s head.
Everyone went outside again for another battle. Jelly joined the Barkley boys, to take Jarrod’s place, and Murdoch joined his sons.
“Whoa! First, it was three against two and now it’s four against three!” Nick complained.
“Oh, shut up, Nick!” Heath fussed.
Jelly snickered and called Miguel over to be their ammo man. Both sides had some good hits and Victoria called it a tie. The combatants returned to the hacienda to wash and change into dry clothes.
Dinner was once again a lively affair, with the battle participants recalling their best “hits” and their worst “misses.”
The Barkleys thanked the Lancers for a wonderful time. After dessert, Johnny and Heath played a game of Chess. Truman sat with Johnny to “supervise,” and Scott played poker with the other men. The ladies sat on the couch and talked about the men and fashion in San Francisco.
About twenty minutes into the game, Heath looked up and noticed that Truman was sound asleep on Johnny’s lap.
“Shhhhh, I’m thinking.”
“Truman is asleep.”
“Huh? Oh. Okay. I’ll be right back. It’s still my turn.”
Johnny took his brother up and put him to bed. When he returned, the game resumed.
The next morning, the family was preparing for their guests’ departure. Breakfast was laid out as a buffet. When everyone was finished, the boys loaded the surrey and said farewell to their guests. Murdoch and Scott again accompanied the Barkleys.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Truman muttered, “amen.”
Johnny heard and ruffled the boy’s hair.
“I agree, True. It’s been quite a whirlwind of holidays and extra people, huh?”
“Yeah. I’m ready for life to get back to normal.”
“Yeah. Me, too. You were really good over the holidays, lil cowboy. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Johnny. Wanna play with me?”
“Not right now. We have chores to do.”
“Well, maybe having one more holiday wouldn’t be too bad,” Truman said.
Johnny laughed. “I thought you said you wanted life to get back to normal.”
Truman grinned. “Yeah, I did. We’re gonna have a great year, aren’t we?”
“We sure are , lil cowboy.”
Truman grinned. When Johnny walked away to start the year off “normally,” Truman hauled back and threw a snowball at the back of his head. Johnny turned and chased the boy all over the yard, much to the amusement of the hands who had seen the initial attack on Johnny. Johnny finally caught the little guy and tickled him mercilessly.
After Truman calmed down, they went to complete their chores, then saddled their horses and went for a ride. Along the way, they met Scott and Murdoch returning from town. The Lancer men headed back to the hacienda start a brand new year together.
The End, Happy New Year!
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